“The noise in the attic wakes me again.”
– The Bridge of Little Jeremy, opening line –
** DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. Nevertheless, all opinions presented here are my own. **
When a friend of the author’s reached out to me and asked whether I would like a review copy of The Bridge of Little Jeremy, I was about to decline. I was super busy with university work, and besides, I had a ton of other books I wanted to get to.
But then I read the premise and the novel’s first few pages, and my interest was caught! Literary fiction set in Paris? A boy and his dog finding treasure somewhere beneath the city? That sounded like the perfect combination to still at least some of my wanderlust – especially now that dear COVID has pretty much obliterated all of my travel plans 🙄 – and to nostalgically remind me of all those mystery novels I devoured as a kid!
Unfortunately, however, The Bridge of Little Jeremy ultimately ended up falling flat for me. While I did appreciate its vivid descriptions of Paris, I felt like the book had little purpose other than showcasing the city it was set in and being a platform to warn about the dangers of social media and inheritance tax. Though it was a sweet story, I thought it lacked nuance, both in terms of the themes it explored and the complexity of its characters. I didn’t hate it, but nothing about it particularly captured my attention, either.
SOME GENERAL INFO:
Title: The Bridge of Little Jeremy
Author: Indrajit Garai
Genre: Contemporary, Literary Fiction
Page Count: 367
Publication Date: March 17th, 2019
Date Read: November 17th – 20th, 2021
Rating: 2/5 Stars
Set in the historical center of Paris, The Bridge of Little Jeremy follows a young boy who lives in a small apartment with his single mother and loves to paint. Since Jeremy suffers from a serious heart condition, he has been unable to attend school for quite a while, which gives him and his dog Leon a lot of time to explore their surroundings. One day, however, Jeremy’s world is turned upside down when he learns that he and his mother might soon lose the home his family has been living in for generations – his mother is behind on tax payments, and if she doesn’t find a way to raise money in the next few months, they will be evicted. Although Jeremy tries to help out by selling his paintings, it just doesn’t look like it will be enough. Until Jeremy and Leon make a discovery down in the cellars…
Overall, I appreciated several things about this book. Jeremy’s story was endearing, and you couldn’t not root for a boy so determined to help his mother. The loyalty between Jeremy and his dog was heart-warming. The ending was exactly what I had hoped for, beautiful and bittersweet. And I really enjoyed the detail that went into portraying the Parisian setting! The descriptions were so lush and vivid, and there were also a few French snippets in here that language-loving me immediately gobbled up!
However, what ultimately kept me from enjoying the book was its lack of depth in pretty much every department other than city descriptions.
First, there were the characters, who were either annoyingly perfect or utterly despicable. Take Jeremy, for instance: Everything he did, he did to please his mother. He was never selfish. The only times he ever misbehaved were when he was doing something that he thought would help his family in the long run, and even then, the “misbehavior” barely classified as such. I just didn’t buy that he was a twelve-year-old! Seriously, the kid had the narrative voice of a walking encyclopedia:
“Along with the quarries of gypsum, these sewers have played important roles in the three revolutions and the rise of the commune in our city. During the Second World War, this is where the French Forces of the Interior lay in ambush, coordinated with our allies, took the Germans by surprise, and liberated Paris.” (p. 59)
“In the same folder, there’s an offer from a new home insurer; its subscription fees and co-payments are much larger than what we pay now. There are instructions for paying an invoice, the amount that needs to be remitted to accept this offer. They say their proposition expires in two weeks, but I know Mom doesn’t have the money.” (p. 113)
“We arrive at the quarter where the Cour de Miracles used to be in the Middle Ages. On this square, where the king of bandits used to hold his court then, there are banks now.” (p. 165)
I mean, sure, I guess some twelve-year-olds do have a pretty sophisticated vocabulary, especially regarding topics they are particularly interested in. But Jeremy sounded like a sixty-year-old historian/lawyer all the time! He knew everything about Paris and its past, about taxation, about art, you name it. And after a while, the fact that Jeremy had next to no personality other than being the perfect son and a robotic conveyor of info-dumpy background information really started getting on my nerves.
The same thing goes for the other characters in the book. None of them really evolved beyond bland cardboard cutouts. Jeremy’s mother’s only defining traits were that she continuously worried about Jeremy and his heart condition and that she was usually away at work. Jeremy’s friend Paolo had no purpose other than providing a mentor figure for Jeremy. Jeremy’s neighbor, whom Jeremy only refers to as ‘the pervert’, can pretty much be summed up by this moniker. I don’t know… I guess that I was just hoping that a book that focused so heavily on its characters would make them a bit more complex and multi-layered.
The same thing goes for the themes this book explored. They had so much potential, but I often felt as though that potential wasn’t fully reached.
For one thing, art plays a pivotal role in Jeremy’s life, and I loved seeing how it was incorporated into the story. However, instead of fully exploring Jeremy’s feelings towards art and what made it so important to him, the novel mostly hits the reader over the head with art history and details in Jeremy’s paintings that sometimes seem to contradict each other. Like, do you seriously expect me to believe that Jeremy has a detailed knowledge of art epochs and Parisian painters when he accidentally adds nineteenth-century details to a painting depicting a sixteenth-century scene?
I also thought that The Bridge of Little Jeremy touched upon some interesting ideas in the way it portrayed the dangers of social media and the problematic aspects of inheritance law. However, by portraying these things in a very one-sided way, the book didn’t really give any nuance to these discussions, and made me feel kind of like I was reading barely disguised propaganda against facebook and inheritance tax. Propaganda coming from a person whose opinion on these things were so fixed in stone that they hadn’t even bothered to research beyond their own bubble.
Take social media, for instance. I’m sorry, but this book is set in present-day France – or at least, in post-2002 France, since the current currency is the Euro – and Jeremy has never used the internet at home before? Why does everybody in the book think this is perfectly normal? Why does Jeremy’s mother suddenly allow him access, then, if she has apparently been super strict about it before? And why does Jeremy, despite his internet-cluelessness, mysteriously have perfect online research skills that allow him to understand tax laws that are so complicated that even I don’t get them? Also, when Jeremy does make a social media account, why is the only thing that we learn about it that it is “on the social network”? Couldn’t we get a few more specifics? To be honest, all the passages relating to the internet kind of read like my grandmother, who always needed help turning on her computer, had written them, and felt very out of touch with the reality of a 21st-century European pre-teen. Which kind of made me take the criticism in the book with a grain of salt as well…
Similarly, while we got to see a lot of the negative effects taxation laws had on Jeremy and his family, I would have liked representation of the other side of the picture as well. Since one major plotline revolved around Jeremy trying to attract the government’s attention and get those laws changed, I think it would have made sense to include at least some discussion as to why these laws had been passed in the first place. Don’t get me wrong – I did think it was interesting to see an issue like inheritance tax raised in fiction! But the one-sidedness of its portrayal left quite a few questions unanswered and made things a bit repetitive, since the same arguments were rehashed over and over again.
Finally, a few things about the story just felt unrealistic. Apart from Jeremy’s strange relationship with the internet, there was also Jeremy’s general situation. Somehow, he has a heart condition so serious that he’s not allowed to go to school, but then he’s allowed to run around Paris 24/7 all on his own without his mother batting so much as an eye? The same mother who forbade Jeremy access to social media because it was so dangerous? At least to me, that didn’t quite ring true. As did the fact that Jeremy knew the history of just about every painting and building that had ever stood in Paris.
So yeah – overall, The Bridge of Little Jeremy wasn’t really my cup of tea. While I did think the story was cute and I liked the setting, the characters and the plot weren’t layered enough to make me truly invested. I am, however, nevertheless thankful to have gotten the opportunity to read the book and would like to add that my lack of enjoyment should in no way be seen as an attack on the author! I am sure there are people out there who would enjoy this – I just wasn’t one of them 😅
Anyway, if you’ve read The Bridge of Little Jeremy, I’d be really curious to know your thoughts! Do you agree or disagree with me? Or do you maybe have recommendations for books set in Paris that you think I’d enjoy more? I would love to chat down in the comments!