Last fall, I fell in love with A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé, which is set on the Rue Dupuytren in Paris. With each page, I became more intrigued. I told myself I ought to save it to read on our fast-approaching trip to Paris, but I couldn’t help myself and devoured the book a few days before we left. The familiar sadness overcame me as I finished, and it was time to say goodbye to the characters who’d become temporary friends. However, I felt excited to visit Rue Dupuytren to see whether the setting I’d imagined bore any relation to reality.
Both a mystery and a social commentary, A Novel Bookstore explores the desire to preserve culture in an era of anti-intellectualism and hyper-consumerism. Francesca envisions a cozy bookstore that sells only “good books” called The Good Novel, whose stock is selected by a secret committee composed of prominent writers. She enlists Ivan to help realize this dream on Rue Dupuytren. However, they are unprepared for the deluge of hate from readers who feel the premise of the shop implies that they have no taste, authors who feel snubbed, and the French publishing world, which fears revenue loss. A Novel Bookstore champions artistic freedom and integrity and explores personal motivations and complex relationships in a beautiful setting. It is full of references to great literature, both well-known and obscure, which provides a reading list for years to come.
On a cold day in late December 2019, in true slow-travel fashion, we decided to wander around Saint Germain. It was the perfect day to explore Rue Dupuytren, and my husband kindly indulged me. We found the tiny street, only about 50 meters long, tucked behind the Odeon Metro station. Lined with creamy stone buildings, a few charming wooden storefronts remain. The street has a wide variety of door styles with blue and white enamel numbers set above; a few are colorfully painted, but most are left bare. Number 10 is especially interesting with a heavy exposed half-timber beam above—a clue to the Rue Dupuytren’s late 17th-century origins.
The red door at number No. 8 captivated me. While researching this post, I found that the storefront of No. 8 was the original location of the first Shakespeare & Company from 1919 until 1921, and then owner Sylvia Beach moved it to 12 Rue de l’Odéon. How serendipitous that I would be drawn to this storefront. However, The Good Novel was actually across the street.
As is so often the case, many of the locations I feel I’ve “discovered” were captured by my favorite photographers in the 19th and early-20th centuries. Eugene Atget captured Number 2 at the bottom of the hill, which is a different building altogether now. Charles Marville’s 1866 view, below, looks toward the top of the street. The photo is accompanied by a wonderful history of the street on this site.
Having visited Rue Dupuytren, it will be fun to re-read A Novel Bookstore and picture Francesca and Ivan walking up the gently curving street and the light on the buildings. I’ll imagine customers opening the door and entering the bookshop in anticipation of new discoveries. I’ll be able to see Ivan popping around the corner for a bite to eat or a coffee and envision his long walk home on cold winter nights.
Have you visited favorite literary locations on your travels? Please share in the comments.