The Reader on the 6.27
by Jean Paul Didierlaurent
Available at Amazon
Each morning, on the 6.27 train, Guylain Vignolles reads aloud rescued fragments extracted from standard paperbacks with ‘passionate dedication’:
‘The tree oozed a thick resin through the gashes streaking its trunk, fat tears of sap that beaded on the surface of the bark and then seeped slowly downwards.’
Starting work reluctantly at 7.00am, Guylain ironically operates The Zerstor Funfhundert, a greyish green metal beast (loathingly named ‘The Thing’) which ‘crushes, flattens, pounds, squishes, tears, chops, lacerates, shreds, mixes, kneads and boils’…books. All day long. It is the leftovers that Guylain reads to his fellow commuters both to their delight and their indignation.
One day, he discovers a mislaid memory stick and Julie ‘bursts’ into his life through the pages of her diary.
Eventually, through sheer determination and the detective work of his legless friend Guiseppi, the two are movingly united. The book is a simple, delightful, romance which, according to the Sunday Times, ‘champions the power of literature.’
It is worth reading because it is hugely enjoyable but there are subtleties that make it more than just a bestselling French novel.
Jean Paul Didierlaurent draws some distinctive and vivid characters.
Lucien Brunner, Guylain’s ‘chuntering’ colleague is an ‘idiot beyond redemption’, ‘a serpent of the worst kind, a cobra ready to strike at the tiniest blunder.’ Delighting in the destruction of the written word, he is described as an ‘executioner’. Guylain hates him. Their boss, Felix Kowalski, is ‘a little god keeping watch over his dominion’ another whose verbal capacities extend only to torrents of abuse. ‘He barked, yelled, bellowed, cursed and roared but he had never been able to talk in a normal voice.’ Yvon Grimbert, by contrast, is an alexandrine loving soul-mate whose food is literature and black tea drunk by the thermos full.
Guiseppi Carminetti, Guylain’s predecessor, lost his legs to the ‘Thing’ in a ‘shambolic incidence’ of ‘gross negligence’. Guiseppi researches shopping malls in Paris to help Guylain to find Julie and Guylain visits Guiseppi weekly to help him with the housework and to aid him in his search for ‘Gardens and Kitchen Gardens of Bygone Days’, the published reincarnation of his lost limbs.
While the writer seems to have no particular religious interest, his language is nevertheless peppered with biblicisms. References to Armageddon, hell, redemption, theology, snakes, beasts, high priests of the temple and cleansing liberally inhabit the prose.
Julie’s diary is beautifully descriptive and poignantly honest, but aspects of the translation grate. References to ‘hissy fits’, ‘newbies’ and overuse of the words ‘exhumed’ and ‘exude’ make me wish I had a better grasp of written French.
Despite the love story which crowns this work being something you might find in a highly unlikely fairy story, the final chapter brought tears to my eyes. The Reader on the 6.27 left me, like the commuters, with ‘the contented look of an infant that has drunk its fill of milk.’ Isn’t that the power of a good writing?