My grateful thanks to Hayley Camis at Little Brown for a copy of The Little Breton Bistro by Nina George in return for an honest review.
The Little Breton Bistro was published by Abacus, an imprint of Little Brown, on 2nd March 2017 and is available for purchase in e-book and paperback here.
The Little Breton Bistro
Marianne Messman, a housewife, wants to escape her loveless marriage and an uncaring and unfeeling husband of 35 years. Marianne and her husband (army sergeant major Lothar) take a trip to Paris, during which Marianne leaps off the Pont Neuf into the Seine, but she is saved from drowning by a homeless man. Angered by her behaviour, major Lothar takes a coach trip back home to Germany, expecting that a psychologist will escort Marianne home a few days later.
However, Marianne comes across a hand-painted scene of the tiny port of Kerdruc in Brittany, and becomes fixated with the place. Marianne decides to make her way to Kerdruc, and once there meets a host of colourful characters who all gravitate around the small restaurant of Ar Mor (The Sea).
It is this cast of true Bretons who become Marianne’s new family. She finds love and passion with Yann, an artist who becomes her guide to the secrets of Brittany. Before long, Marianne’s husband is back to retrieve her and Marianne feels pulled towards her old life by way of duty and guilt. She leaves Kerdruc and gets as far as Paris before she realises it’s now or never when it comes to building the life she really wants.
My Review of The Little Breton Bistro
When Marianne’s attempts at suicide are thwarted, a whole new life of possibility is revealed to her.
Never having read anything by Nina George and being slightly irritated by the use of the adjective ‘little’ in so many book titles of late I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading The Little Breton Bistro as I thought it would be another lightweight formulaic read. I was completely wrong. If I’m honest, I didn’t really think that the title did justice to the book.
The Little Breton Bistro is an absorbing tale of what it means to live life to the full and not live down to others’ expectations. The marriage between Marianne and Lothar is, I suspect, typical of so many marriages and The Little Breton Bistro actually gives hope and life to those in similar circumstances. It is a salutary tale of making the most of life.
The plotting is extremely good with every character in Kerdruc earning their place in the story and weaving a colourful tapestry of life, love and relationships. I really enjoyed the fact that Marianne and Yann, for example, are in their 60s and presented as warm human beings with real needs, insecurities and desires, rather than the 30 somethings of so many novels.
But it was the overall quality of writing I really enjoyed. There’s a wry humour that balances perfectly the deeper aspects. All the senses are perfectly catered for from the crackle of stockings to the ozone taste of oysters so that the prose sizzles with life. Some of the phrasing was quite beautiful and made me think of Dylan Thomas, especially the descriptions of Kerdruc. I also loved the underlying mythology and art that came through the superstitions of the Breton community so that this is strong storytelling.
The themes that underpin the characterisation are apposite and satisfying. Life threatening illness, dementia, love, bitterness and so on all feature but in a way that doesn’t expect readers to respond like thoughtless puppets. Nina George says what she has to say and leaves the reader to make up their own mind. I found The Little Breton Bistro quite a feminist read in lots of ways.
So, quite differently from expectations, I really enjoyed reading The Little Breton Bistro. I could identify with the characters and themes and having read it felt my life had been enhanced. I highly recommend this uplifting tale of optimism, hope and love.
About Nina George
Born in 1973, Nina George is a journalist and the author of numerous bestselling novels, which have been translated into several languages. The Little Paris Bookshop was a phenomenal top five bestseller in Germany and is set to be published around the world. She is married to the writer Jens J. Kramer and lives in Hamburg.