As I have mentioned before, one of my favourite things is to get hold of pre-publication proofs of new books, especially if they are well-written and a pleasure to read. Last week I read just such a book – The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent.
Apart from anything I think the writer deserves a prize for having the most French name imaginable.
One of the best aspects of the book is the unpredictability of the story, which is something I always like. For me it has the sort of feel that the film Being John Malkovich has, where everything is just a little bit quirky. The difference is that everything in this book is at least possible.
Because a large part of the enjoyment depends on those little surprises, I won’t spoil the pleasure for anybody else by giving any of them away, except for the starting premise.
I used to commute by train every day and still remember those days, getting on the same carriage and seeing the same faces every morning, some asleep, some reading the newspaper, some reading books and others checking phones. Imagine that situation, and then imagine that one person takes out a loose random page from a random book and starts reading that. Aloud. That is the starting point for this story, with the hero entertaining his carriage every morning, giving performances that are unsolicited, not really acknowledged by the rest of the carriage but apparently tolerated.
Everything about the book is a joy: the overall plot, the little bizarre details, the characters, and the easy style, of which more in a moment. The publishers’ blurb compares it to Mr. Penumbra’s 24-hour Bookstore. That is not a book I had heard of before, but I am now going to download it to my Kindle just on the strength of the comparison – and a quick look at its description. I know that recommendations are supposed to work the other way round but that’s how it worked for me.
About the style: the book has been translated from French so I guess some of the credit has to go to the translators. despite having been translated from another language, everything feels perfectly natural, and you would hardly guess that it hadn’t been writtedn in English – which is exactly the effect a decent translation should have. I’m only really aware of it because I read a book on the topic which makes me analyse it a bit more. There are even some linguistic jokes based on the hero’s name which survive intact. Even more remarkable, one plot element involves bits of poetry in the alexandrine format, which have to be translated to keep the meaning but also to rhyme and stick to the 12-syllable metre without looking forced.
The book is published next month in hardback and e-book format. The film rights have also been snapped up, but don’t wait for the film.