The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, France, 2014

The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, France, 2014

At barely 200 pages, this delightful book is more like a novella than a novel. The main character, Guylain Vignolles, whose name, unfortunately, can be easily linked to Vilain Guignol (ugly puppet), works at a recycling factory. His job is to manage the monstrous machine that beats, cuts and drowns second-hand books (and even new books) into a thick sickening pulp that is then used to make new paper and new books, which eventually end up in the machine to be turned into new pulp to make new paper and books, and so on. . .

Guylain does not particularly like his job – his parents who live more than 400 kilometres from Paris believe that he is an assistant publications manager at a print works – but he makes the best of it. One of his jobs is to crawl into the machine and clean it, and when he does this, hidden from all the security cameras installed by the boss, Kowaski a.k.a. Fatso, he gathers together the scattered pages that missed the hammering and cutting and place them inside his overalls.

Every morning on his way to work on the 6.27 train, he sits in the same carriage with the same group of commuters, and he reads from the pages he has salvaged from the machine. There is never a beginning or an end to these readings – they are simply small snippets rescued from oblivion – but the people on the train love them, and they give Guylain a reason to be living.

We meet Guylain’s three friends: Guiseppe, who used to manage the machine before he was the victim of a frightful accident; Yvon, who works at the factory and only communicates in French alexandrines; and Rouget de Lisle, Guylain’s goldfish. The story then expands to include two elderly ladies from Magnolia Court old age home, (who invite Guylain to give readings every Saturday), a red memory stick and a girl called Julie.

Beautifully written this is an engaging story that despite many references to excrement, both from a terrifying machine and from people themselves, captivates with its honesty and its astute observations of human nature. The distance between dark and light is infinitesimal, and can be easily broached by, for example, adding a single tile to 14,717 tiles or by, as in Guiseppe’s case, collecting 1,300 copies of the same book. Definitely recommended.

Photo of Jean-Paul Didierlaurent from wikipedia

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