You might be surprised to pick up a book charmingly titled “The Little French Bistro” and discover it starts with a German army wife contemplating suicide. Never fear! The desperate woman in question, Marianne Messmann, does not die after flinging herself off a Paris bridge. Instead, without money or ID, she flees her long unhappy marriage and heads to. . . Brittany.
Why there? Marianne has stolen a colorful tile depicting that region’s town of Kerdruc, and it calls to her. Nina George’s second novel — after “The Little Paris Bookshop” — follows the tradition of stories in which an unhappy woman stumbles into a new life. Think early Maeve Binchy, Katie Fforde and Prue Leith.
When Marianne arrives in tiny Kerdruc, she winds up as a cook at the town’s Ar Mor restaurant, where all those years of housewifery come in handy.
She rescues an oversalted soup by throwing in a cut-up potato, and so forth. At Ar Mor, Marianne also finds out that quite a few villagers need the new perspective she brings. Chef Jean-Rémy is in unrequited love with a waitress. Emile’s wife, Pascale, is spiraling into dementia. Colette has a longtime crush on her best friend. And Yann … well, Yann has never met a woman like Marianne.
Although Marianne is in her early 60s, that’s no barrier to the erotic relationship she enjoys with Yann. But while love and sex matter in “The Little French Bistro,” other things do, too, including food, fishing, painting, swimming and freedom. George beautifully evokes Brittany with its rocky shores, crustacean-rich waters and Celtic origins. Her characters still speak Breton, taking their leave with a breezy “Kenavo!”
When the sergeant major comes to take his errant wife home, she’s tempted to fall back into her obedient and docile ways. But the town of Kerdruc keeps calling to her. It’s no spoiler to say this novel offers a happy ending — and a satisfying one, as well.
Bethanne Patrick is the editor, most recently, of “The Books That Changed My Life: Reflections by 100 Authors, Actors, Musicians and Other Remarkable People.”
On Monday at 7 p.m., Nina George will be at Politics and Prose Bookstore, 5015 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington.
By Nina George
Translated from the German by Simon Pare
Crown. 320 pp. $26