Anecdotal Review: The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

 

From the back cover: “Guylain Vignolles lives on the edge of existence. Working at a book pulping factory in a job he hates, he has but one pleasure in life . . . 

Sitting on the 6.27 train each day, Guylain recites aloud from pages he has saved from the jaws of his monstrous pulping machine. But it is when he discovers the diary of a lonely young woman, Julie – a woman who feels as lost in the world as he does – that his journey will truly begin . . .”

Funnily enough, I first came across The Reader on the 6.27, a book about, among other things, a commuter reading aloud literature to an expectant train carriage, when I looked up from my own book on my train home from work to see an advertisement for it in the square slots above the seats. Funnily enough, I was given The Reader on the 6.27, a book about, among other things, the preservation, enjoyment and sharing of literature, by a friend as part of a book swap. (I leant her the excellent [Becky may disagree, but this is my blog, so hush now, Becky!] The Universe versus Alex Woods by Gavin Extence and Elizabeth is Missing by Emma Healey; both humorous-yet-heart-wrenching, well written and thought provoking novels with resounding, core-cutting afterthoughts; both firm 8/10s.)

Picking up this book allowed me to break a personal record of reading four different books in a single week (finishing one, completing two more, and starting another), making me feel as if I had aquired a C rated superpower of supersonic-reading. However, if my previous read, Slade House by David Mitchell, was suspectedly below the 80,000 word mark then I would be surprised if this was little over half of that: with luxuriously wide, word-cramping borders and kick-back-and-relax double-spacing, this serves more as a novella than as a novel.

Considering its success so far (translated from French into twenty-two other languages) this is what I would call a fashionable book. It’s prose is simple, elegant. It’s story is heart-warming, relatable. It’s also smart and witty. So I can appreciate its mass appeal: it makes the unexceptional, exceptional. The unentertaining, entertaining. The ordinary, extraordinary. It’s cute, curt and well-crafted.

With this in mind and not wanting to give much of the plot away, the story had me intrigued as to where it was actually going. I then thought, as I often do, that I really needed to fart. [This is what happens when you leave your Chromebook unattended around your girlfriend. Thanks, Emily.] So, returning to my intrigue: the story focuses on a handful of characters. Despite the blurb and the book’s brevity, it manages to stray far from initial expectations, adding to the book’s charm and to the characters’ magnetism. Although they are few, with some more defined than others, those at the core (Guliyan, Julia, Yvan and Yslepepe) are well rounded; their varied distinctiveness is really allowed to breathe in the sparse style. Each character is believable yet slightly fantastic; these sparks of wackiness never spit far from the snapping fire of the ordinary. My particular favourite was a legless cripple, whose grip on sanity was dependent on the success of his mission to reclaim all the suspected issues of a particular book which had been pulped at the time of his leg-losing accident and subsequently printed with the help of his now phantom limbs.

Then, towards the end, it veered toward the cliche.

During my MA, I remember being told, “there always needs to be a love interest”. Like many books, this is where the narrative eventually finds its focus. This wasn’t apparent from the start and that was nice: it was an organic (and everyday) development. Although it comes across as a bit too cliche and a bit too romantic, Didierlaurent pulls it off and any qualms are quickly forgiven and forgotten. Perhaps our ordinary lives need a few more cliches in them to make them extraordinary. Perhaps, as a reader who can easily relate to the characters, you want the cliche—the happy ending—to happen, as that’s what we’d all like in life.

Funnily enough, The Reader on the 6.27, a book about, among other things, the ordinary being extraordinary, falls short of being extraordinary itself. While it’s enjoyable to read—its humour and central characters are the champions—it left no lasting impression, no mental after-punch, no resounding, core-cutting afterthoughts. I wouldn’t be surprised if, like seasonal fashions, this was a book I soon forgot about. Despite this, the novel was humorous and heartwarming: enough for me to want to keep Didierlaurent on my bookdar. Afterall, it was entertaining. While I held the book, the book held me.

Overall rating: 6/10

Originality: 6/10
Pace: 7/10
Plot Strength: 5/10
Story Strength: 6/10
Characters: 7/10
Writing Style: 6/10

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