22 May 2017

The Little French Bistro by Nina George

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars
Genre: Literary fiction? Romance?
Format: Free digital ARC from First to Read (no compensation in exchange for review)
Heat Level: Subtle -- sex is mentioned, but not explicitly described
Expected publication date: 13 Jun 2017

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This book confused me as far as how it should be categorized. Literary fiction? Romance? Women's fiction? I expected it to be cheerful and uplifting. Wouldn't you expect that if the book was described as having "buoyant charm"? Anyway . . .

The Little French Bistro by Nina George is a novel about a woman discovering her power late in life. Marianne has been married for 41 years to a man she is pretty sure doesn't love her. On a vacation to Paris, she decides she can't take it any longer and runs off to Brittany. Once there she slowly reinvents herself and has to decide where she truly belongs.

Having never read any of George's work and knowing little about this novel before requesting it from First to Read, I was expecting a comic chick-lit trifle. Instead, if I had to describe it in one word, I would say "melancholy". The tone and plot similarities (a German woman shows up in a random town after a breakup and makes friends with the locals) reminded me of the 1987 movie Bagdad Cafe.

The description of Marianne's childhood and marriage definitely helped me understand how she got to the point where she wanted to escape her life. I also appreciated reading a book about people closer to my own age. Most of them were at least 60 years old and had all the life experience and heartache to go with their advanced age. Marianne experiences a reawakening that is a welcome reminder that you can't always tamp down your own desires in favor of someone else's preferences.

After the first few chapters, however, this book began to resemble literary fiction, which I do my best to avoid. I mean, I like pretty words as much as any other reader, but I also like dialogue and characters actually doing something. There wasn't much dialogue and when there was dialogue, it was poetic but vague. There was a lot of talk of superstitions and witches and healing and the power of nature and the sea that became tedious to read. The reader is treated to the inner thoughts and reminiscences of each of the characters, but not enough scenes to make us understand why the residents of the small seaside town that Marianne escapes to fall in love with her.  There were incidences of almost magical realism that don't come to fruition.

The Little French Bistro is well written, but it feels more like a meditation on life rather than a story. The reader is given a look into the sadness and melancholy of each character's life, a few lines about how (some of) the characters' lives improved, and then the book is over. Despite the age of the characters, I would have enjoyed this in my late teens when I was into reading all about melancholy and pretty words just for their prettiness. Nowadays I want books that get to the point a little quicker.

The Little French Bistro on Overdrive
The Little French Bistro on Book Depository
The Little French Bistro on Amazon

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