Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Little French Bistro

Title:  The Little French Bistro
Author:  Nina George
Publication Information:  Crown. 2017. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0451495586 / 978-0451495587

Book Source:  I received this book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewers program free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "It was the first decision she had ever made on her own, the very first time she was able to determine the course of her life."

Favorite Quote:  "Every woman is a priestess if she loves life and can work magic on herself and those who are sacred to her. It's time for women to remind themselves of the powers they have inside."

As with Nina George's first book The Little Paris Bookshop, the premise of this book sounds like it could be a powerful story. A sixty-some year old woman remains in a controlling, abusive marriage for over forty years. The only way out visible to her seems to be suicide. That suicide attempt is how the book begins on the banks of the Seine River in the beautiful city of Paris.

As you might expect, Marianne's attempt is unsuccessful and lands her in the hospital. Her husband returns home, leaving Marianne to recover alone and then follow him home. Instead, Marianne runs. A found object, a painted tile, sets her on a path to Brittany. The name of the Finistére region on the west coast of Brittany comes from the Latin phrase meaning end of the earth. For Marianne, it seems fitting that she will end her life there.

As you might expect, she does not. Instead, she rediscovers life in and around a little French bistro in the small village of Kerdruc on the coast. A host of characters enter her life. Each brings their own back story. Each touches Marianne's life in some way, and Marianne leaves each one changed, providing just the right words and actions at just the right time.

As you might expect in a story about escaping the past, the past often comes to find you. The final step of the escape of course is the reckoning with the past. Oddly, the aspect that is never explored is why Marianne marries this man in the first place and why she stays in the marriage for over forty years. The corollary that then does not follow is how after a lifetime, she manages rather quickly to find her independence and her voice. That lack of development means that as a reader, I don't completely buy into Marianne's story. I don't ever feel that her character is fully revealed.

Unfortunately, as with Nina George's first book, this one ends up in a place that belies the strong premise. What sets up as almost a coming-of-age story for an older woman scatters into many other things. The book introduces a wide cast of characters and follows their stories in addition to Marianne's. While interesting in their own, following a wide array of stories means that no one story gets developed in depth.

What should be the story of a woman finding her strength also turns into a romance. I would love for a book about a woman finding her voice and her independence to remain about that. I would love to see the point made that coming out of a relationship, first learn to be yourself and by yourself before entering a relationship again.

Finally and unexpectedly, the book also introduces a magical element which is completely unnecessary to the book. Magical powers? Healers? Druids? Why not just people? On the other hand, that is the one unexpected element in this book.

Sadly, despite its premise, the plot and the characters fail to develop, making this not the book for me.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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