On the Ramblings today a book which in theory should have been perfect for me (and I understand why Mr. Kaggsy decided to gift it to me); it’s French, it has trains, books and quirky characters, so should be right up my street. However, it didn’t quite gel for me, and I’m still trying to work out why…

The book is “The Reader on the 6.27″by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent (translated by Ros Schwartz) and it tells the story of Guylain Vignolles, a misfit loner who works in a paper pulping plant and hates his job. On his daily commute, he reads random pages saved from the machine to the other travellers who apparently love to hear this. His co-workers and boss are vile, and his only allies are Guiseppe, an ex-colleague crippled by the machine, plus Guylain’s goldfish… However, his life changes when he stumbles upon a lost memory stick which contains the diary of a woman called Julie who’s a public toilet attendant. As well as reading extracts from this diary on the train, he also becomes besotted with her and determines to find her. Well, you get the picture….

Actually, you may *not* get the picture, because the book is 194 pages, much of which is extracts from the saved books or the diaries, and so frankly not a lot of space to develop the plot. And it doesn’t really develop if I’m honest. There are dramatic descriptions of the pulping machine; sequences where Guylain goes to read at an old people’s home; and vignettes of his relationship with his mother. The ‘romance’ plot doesn’t make its entry until well into the book and the whole thing feels undercooked.

Oddly, one of my bugbears with the book is the fact that it’s presented as a quirky romance, but actually it’s pretty grim in places: the first extract we witness Guylain reading on the train is about killing and skinning a rabbit, which nearly stopped me reading any futher; the graphic descriptions of the habits of visitors to Julie’s public toilet are gross; and the whole saga of Guiseppe and his legs is really dark. Thinking about all of these elements made me wonder if the book actually knew what it wanted to be (or, in fact, if the author really knew…)

“Reader…” certainly seems to be a book which divides actual readers, being very much a Marmite book; I’ve seen it loved and praised by some, while others puzzle its appeal. I think in the end I felt the book was just too underdone. The chapters are short, the book itself is short, and the whole thing ended up feeling unfinished to me. There was possibly potential here if the story and characters had been given more time to develop, but in the end it just didn’t deliver. A rare reading failure for me – but at least it *was* short… :s