Reviewed by Angela Marie
Readers and lovers of Nina George’s “The Little Paris Bookshop” should not be disappointed by her latest novel, “The Little Breton Bistro”, a heartfelt and intriguing journey.
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.
Marianne decided to die. Here and now, down below in the waters of the Seine, late on this grey day. On her trip to Paris…. Never before had she felt so light, so free, so happy.
Marianne Messman, the core protagonist of “The Little Breton Bistro”, has lived a life of sensory deprivation and emotional vacuum. She has planned a glorious, joyful and rebellious act of self-indulgence – suicide from the Pont Neuf overlooking the Seine. And in her socially-conditioned and thoughtful way, this German housewife lays aside her items which may be used by others, and jumps and falls into the air.
With exceedingly bad luck and bad timing, our heroine is rescued by a well-meaning tramp. Compounding the downward spiral, Marianne awakes in hospital to be reunited with Lothar, the self-serving, ever-so-important, and philandering husband from whom she has tried to escape. But all is not lost! Whilst recuperating in hospital, she becomes captivated by a painted tile featuring coastal Kerdruc, a haven in Brittany, and obviously the very best place to end her life. Her driving motivation is to be the architect of her own life (and death), and she is consumed by the rightness of this choice.
Determined not to concede failure in her quest, Marianne plots, and manipulates her limited resources, to arrive at the place of her intended departing.
At its core, this novel is an indictment of mores that suppress the needs of the individual, not exclusively, but notably, female. It is a challenge to those accepting a less-than-desired lot in life. It laughs at ageism, scorns convention, and ties its characters up in bonds that cannot be severed. Passions ebb and flow, only to resurface again and again, with the possibilities of second or third chances at the prize. And we recognise ourselves and know that none of us are immune to regret and less-than-perfect decision-making. Above all, the message is honesty. To yourself and to others. And finding destiny in that honesty.
“The Little Breton Bistro” is a love story. A love story to yourself. A sensual love story with evocative, sensitive and heart-wrenching detail. Nina George rolls words around until the fit is exquisite, and develops a blurring of lines between passion and food, food and people, and people and passion, and so, akin to the mystic Breton beliefs, shows the oneness of all. We witness the rapture incanted by music, art and memories. Every sense serves as an entity. In what could have been a predictable and ordinary progression, Nina George has injected delicate and deliberate prose in twists and turns. Simon Pare has once again translated Ms George’s novel into English with apparent sensitivity and cohesion.
In her reflection on her search for death, Marianne was suddenly scared that she would lose the courage to continue to search for her own path.
And so, will the magic of Brittany’s forests, waters, and the myriad of new and unique companions be strong enough to seduce Marianne to reconsider her quest? Will Marianne chance to trust, and, if so, will this be to her detriment or her delight? Will Marianne see herself as others see her – worthy of love and life, or will this fail to pass?
Nina George, the prolific German-born author of more than two dozen novels, and hundreds of short stories and columns, has again delivered a novel that is, at once, entertaining and provocative. And as intriguing as the author herself with her multiple pseudonyms and genres. Nina George, who left high school before graduation, teaches writing, and mentors both the young and the professional writer. She gave the keynote address at the German Writer’s Conference in 2014 and is a member of numerous writers’ associations.
The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George (2010)
Translated by Simon Pare (2017)