Monday, February 5, 2018

The Little French Bistro - Nina George

Summary:  Marianne is stuck in a loveless, unhappy marriage.  After forty-one years, she has reached her limit, and one evening in Paris she decides to take action.  Following a dramatic moment on the banks of the Seine, Marianne leaves her life behind and sets out for the coast.  She finds herself in Brittany, the northwestern part of France – also known as “the end of the world.”
There, Marianne is swept up by a new life at Ar Mor (the Sea) restaurant.  She meets Yann, the handsome painter; Genevieve, the fiery restaurant owner; Jean-Remy, the heartbroken chef; and many others.  Among food, music, and laughter, Marianne finds a forgotten version of herself – passionate, carefree, and powerful.  This is, until her past comes calling.  And when it does, Marianne is left with a choice; to return to the known or cast it aside for the future.  (Summary from book - Image from goodreads.com)

My Review: I have this thing I do when I’m not sure what book I want to read next.  I gather up about five or six prospects and then sit down and read the first page or so of each to see if anything grabs me.  

The Little French Bistro was second in my pile, and I never did make it to any of the others.  It started out well, both beautifully-written and thoroughly atmospheric.  I’ve never been to Paris outside of the written word (I reviewed this one book this one time), but the author’s descriptions of French life, whether in the city, countryside, or at the seaside, made me long to travel to the coast of Brittany, gobble French delicacies, enjoy the impeccable views, and primal scream at the ocean (you’d have to read it…).  

The protagonist, Marianne, is a sixty-year old woman in search of herself and longing to escape from her life-sucking marriage.  A series of events leads her to an idyllic town on the coast of Brittany where she begins working at a restaurant and there meets a startlingly vast array of local characters.  I felt each character, regardless of their part in the book, was well-developed and could have had their own spin-off book, but for the first half of the book, it was incredibly hard to keep them all straight.  At one point, I actually looked to see if there were some kind of glossary (no luck).  Eventually, I got them all worked out in my mind but it took some effort.  

The antagonist, Lothar, is Marianne’s husband and while he doesn’t feature much in the book, his presence certainly looms over it.  Basically, he’s an inconsiderate, misogynistic jerk.  There were also a few secondary story lines threaded their way through the book – a love sick cook, a mysterious feud between business rivals, an elderly couple battling Parkinson’s and dementia.  There was also a mystical component to story that lent a certain je ne sais quoi to the book, but unfortunately never felt fully developed.  It was these stories that kept me around when, about halfway through the book, my interest in Marianne’s self-discovery began to wane.   Also, I knew Lothar wouldn’t stay gone.  Bad guys never do, right?  

Eventually, Marianne learns to see herself and the world around her through new eyes, and finds what she needs to live life to its fullest.   The Little French Bistro might make a nice one-time read for a Francophile or someone with a penchant for books chocked-full of complex characters, but it had some language and sexual situations that would make it impossible for me to recommend this book to anyone who is a sensitive reader.  There are also some potential triggers for those who have either dealt with or contemplated suicide.  Ultimately, I closed it with an appreciation for the author’s skill, and a renewed desire to visit France, but ready to move on to different, potentially greener, cleaner pastures.  
While

My Rating: 3 Stars

For the sensitive reader: An attempted suicide (or two), some swearing, sex, and a nontraditional relationship.

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