Last fall, I fell in love with A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé, set on Rue Dupuytren in Paris. With each page, I became more intrigued. I told myself that I ought to save it for our fast-approaching trip to Paris to read on the plane, but 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 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 only sells 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 they have no taste, authors who feel snubbed, and the French publishing world that fears revenue loss. A Novel Bookstore champions artistic freedom and integrity while exploring personal motivations and complex relationships in a beautiful setting. It’s filled with references to great literature, both well known and obscure, providing 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. It’s lined with creamy stone buildings, and a few wooden storefronts remain. It has a wide variety of door styles, a few colorfully painted but most left bare, with blue and white enamel numbers set above. Number 10 is especially interesting with a heavy exposed half-timber beam above, a clue to the Rue Dupuytren’s late 17th-century origins.
I was immediately captivated by the red door at number 8 and the beautiful wooden storefront next door. Standing before it, I felt certain the fictitious bookstore would be located right there. While conducting some research for this post, I found that the storefront of No. 8 was the location of the original Shakespeare & Company. It was open there from 1919 until 1921, when owner Sylvia Beach moved it to 12 Rue de l’Odéon. How serendipitous that I would be drawn to this storefront. Surely it was the location the author had in mind for The Good Novel.
As is so often the case, many of the locations I feel I’ve “discovered” have already been captured by my favorite photographers of 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 picture 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.