“When the train pulled into the station and the passengers alighted, an outside observer would have had no trouble noticing how Guylain’s listeners stood out from the rest of the commuters. Their faces did not wear that off-putting mask of indifference. They all had the contented look of an infant that has drunk its fill of milk.”
Author: Jean-Paul Didierlaurent Published: 2014 Pages: 194
The premise of this novel concerns a man called Guylain Vignolles who hates his job at a book pulping factory. The only pleasure he takes from hiswork is by salvaging pages from the pulping machine – The Thing – and reading them aloud to his audience on the 6.27 train every morning. Guylain is an ordinary guy who owns a fish and leads a fairly uneventful life. One morning however, he finds the diary of Julie, and his outlook on life, and his connection with literature, is changed forever.
I loved the way that Didierlaurent describes The Thing as if it’s alive, a creature hungry for paperbacks: “The first mouthfuls were always tricky. The Zerstor was a temperamental ogress. She sometimes became congested, victim of her own greed. Then she would stall, in the midst of her chomping, her mouth full to bursting.” These descriptions made it evident that Didierlaurent thinks literature is something that should be savoured and destroying it is akin to destroying life.
With echoes of Fahrenheit 451, this book demonstrates the power of literature and unlike Bradbury’s dark and morbid novel, The Reader on the 6.27 proves how literature can impact someone’s life; from Giuseppe’s injury from The Thing which left him without any legs, (a personification for the destruction it inflicts on thousands of books everyday), to Yvon, who speaks only in alexandrines and thus reflects a beauty in everything he sees. All the characters are affected by literature in different ways, and although some like Brunner revel in seeing books’ destruction, for most, literature is a powerfully uniting force.
The main reason I didn’t rate this book very highly is because, despite its alluring premise, the overall plot was anticlimactic. The infamous Julie, who was mentioned on the blurb, doesn’t appear until at least halfway through the novel’s short length and even as Guylain does begin to read her diary, there was nothing particularly alluring about her narrative. She was just as ordinary as him. While I did enjoy what the author was trying to convey through the novel as a whole, I was never gripped by Guylain’s storyline. To sum up, I felt that this had a lot of potential to be something more ground-breaking than it was.
One thing I did admire though was Didierlaurent’s metaphor for Giuseppe’s lost legs. In order to get them back, Giuseppe is determined to find all the copies of a book which was made with the paper pulp on the day he lost his limbs. The book in question is Gardens and Kitchen Gardens of Bygone Days. I found this particularly beautiful as not only does literature become a comfort for both Guylain and Giuseppe, but for Giuseppe books literally become the legs he lost and therefore a lifeline to give him purpose in his isolated existence.