Finding Femininity and Feminism in France
“Does love have to be earned through suffering?”
Marianne determines that the Seine is preferable to one more minute of accommodating her husband’s controlling condescension. She walks away from the tour group during dinner to dive into the river, and her husband does not even notice her leaving. A homeless man “steals her death” by pulling her from the water. In the hospital, her husband expresses his concern that her attempt affects him adversely. She again walks away, bent on reaching Kerduc, the seaside town depicted in the nurse’s placemat tile, a town in which she invests her romantic notions of a larger death than her life has been. Circumstances lead her there as if by magic, pulling her into a setting amongst colorful, complicated characters that could have been created by Maeve Binchy. She falls into employment at Ar Mor restaurant, fitting seamlessly into the rhythms of the kitchen. At 60, Marianne begins a new life, of wonder, of real love, of authenticity. Toward the end, the novel gets a bit over the top (with the young waitress Laurine inexplicably removing all her clothing to rescue Jean-Remy’s love letter boats from the water, but maybe that one’s a French thing), yet maintains the integrity of its characters and Breton setting. A woman blooming into a fully realized individual after decades of being an extension of her spouse evokes feminism, when she can see herself as an equal to her lover.
Brittany, France, stands proud as a character in this story, new friends emphasizing Breton identity and sharing Breton folklore. Marieanne’s mysterious introduction to the community as “the woman who came from the sea” invokes the legend of Ys, the city swallowed by the sea, and her new love takes her to the magical forest of Broceliande. Although German, Marianne feels at home amongst her new friend, from the little touches, such as her return to playing the accordion, a long-stored instrument given to her by a Breton reluctant to fall for her charms based on memories of the war. She discovers that there are various ways to thwart love and defy romance. In another nod to Maeve Binchy, the ending provides closure without complete resolution, as in real life. There is death, rekindled romance, illness, love rescued, dementia, and new life, with all their complex and tangled emotions.
International bestselling author Nina George, after “The Little Paris Bookshop” (translated into 35 languages), again lays out beautiful, complicated relationships in seemingly impossible situations and offers readers wildly emotional connections and absolution as human beings in “The Little French Bistro,” on its way to multiple translations.
I was fortunate to receive a copy of this wonderful book through NetGalley.