My rating: 3 of 5 stars
The title is too narrow for all that this book encompasses. Though it begins with the quaint bookshop on a barge in the Seine, it rapidly expands beyond it, to the charming setting of the French canals, and then further south to Marseilles and Provence.
My critique of the book, however, does not stop with the title. Thought the writing is exquisite – truly masterful and lovely in some places – my frustration stems more from annoyance with the outdated notion that a man must complete a woman, or vice versa, in order to find happiness. In fact, the number of outmoded, non-progressive sex roles disheartened me, leading me to wonder if it is, perhaps, a cultural phenomenon. Do the French actually, readily embrace the Nina George's notion that, to paraphrase, 'women are horses that must be tamed by men, who must likewise use the rider's crop of their words and actions to soothe and cajole a woman's emotions?'
These narrow ideas about women and men triggered my involuntary gag reflex. That said and aside, the central relationship of the novel is surprisingly liberal. The author flirts with polyamory as a panacea of the romantic ills of the three main characters. Even at the end of the book, there is the suggestion of unfulfilled hopes and compatibility, so that in spite of its lock-step with present social roles and relationship dogmas, the author hints that there is a potential better way – more open, more accepting, and more forgiving.
There was nothing wrong with this book. It's a fine book with a fine plot. The characters live, love, and breathe within the boundaries of its pages. The only thing I disliked, apart from the vaguely misleading title, was the somewhat cliched romance of its central plot.
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