Hi I’m Lucy, the Online Deputy Editor for Razz Magazine. This upcoming academic year I’m going to start a column featuring book reviews. These books could be just published, old favourites or anything I’ve wanted to read for a long time. I will try to avoid any spoilers as much as I can, but sometimes this is difficult due to some of the themes I will discuss in the reviews. Anything which might spoil the plot I will flag up at the beginning. Occasionally I’ll also write other literature or media related pieces. I would love to hear your comments on any of the books you might have read, even if you disagree!
This week’s book review will be of Jean-Paul Didierlaurent’s The Reader on the 6.27. I read a translation of Didierlaurent’s novel, which was originally written in French. The novel is fictional and was published by PanMacMillan in 2015. Key themes of the book are: literature (including reading and books), the monotony of everyday life, trains, machinery, mystery and the search for love
The Reader on the 6.27 is about a man who spends the majority of his life isolated from everyone else. His main companions are his goldfish and the hundreds of unwanted pages of books he retrieves from the inside of the pulping machine where he works. His repetitive days are spent reading out snippets of these pages to his audience: commuters on the 6.27 train. Through this he builds a small fan base and even receives special reading requests from people. He also has another mission; to help his colleague recover his legs after an accident in the pulping factory- although not in the conventional sense of recovery! Mystery enters his otherwise unfulfilling life through the diary of a woman he stumbles across on the train. He discovers that she has an equally monotonous job- often counting tiles on the floor, and he dedicates himself to finding her.
Although the book was a little slow to begin with, Didierlaurent evocatively creates the monotony of life which we all experience at times. The reader is informed of even the most minor details of Guylain Vignolle’s life making us feel as if we are joining in with the train journey readings and stuck in the innards of the pulping beast which is described in immense detail. It is as if we enter a microcosm of life through Guylain, which is only interrupted when we delve into Julie’s world through her diary.
As an English student, this idea of reading small random sections of novels was very appealing, demonstrating that what is left unsaid can be much more interesting than what we are told. Through this method, Didierlaurent prompts the reader to think more generally and challenge what we are presented with, no matter how small. The book reminded me a bit of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins in the way that both use the confined and habitual setting of a train as an important space for reflecting upon the human condition. Whilst narrator Rachael in The Girl on the Train sits alone, reflecting upon life outside of the train from her distanced and unknowing perspective, Guylain’s audience on the train distance themselves from their day-to-day lives by absorbing disordered pages of novels from any place and time.
The novel has a mostly satisfying ending, despite the solitary nature of Guylain. Julia becomes the catalyst for the plot and the ending all depends upon whether he can find her and confess his admiration. The ending is largely left unsaid, just like the excerpts Guylain reads to people; the reader is left to question what will happen next, as Guylain ’s ultimate listener.
As a book lover myself, the novel only encourages my obsession. The thought of the book pulping machine conjures up the same reaction many Harry Potter fans have to “He who must not be named”. And the fragments of novels he saves stir in me the same moralistic language as Guylain. These snippets from novels promote a new way of reading, which actually seems much more representative of everyday life: unexplained encounters, strange behaviour and one off events: easily forgotten yet consequential all the same. Furthermore, the pages Guylain reads out reminded me of my degree, the way that I have to read around two texts a week (novels, poetry collections or essays). At each point, the meanings and value of individual texts changes; sometimes relating back to other things I’ve read or memories of things long since forgotten.
I would highly recommend this book to those who like to delve deeply into a character’s life, or have a particular interest in the book related theme running throughout the novel. The Reader on the 6.27 offers a charming commentary on the everyday. It does not promise a suspense infused and rapidly paced plot, but a meaningful one which will make you look twice at ripped pages in books or strangers reading aloud on trains (if you should ever see one that is!).
The next book review will be of The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins.