I’m on holiday next week, so I’ll be taking a break from blogging for a bit. Meaning, this will be my last book review for a while. It better be a good one I guess. I’d never heard of this book until Amazon suggested it to me. I know that I should use Amazon as little as possible but I’ve discovered so many novels thanks to its algorithm. This one was perfect for so many reasons but mostly because I was struggling to find shorter reads for my September reading challenge. I’ve got so many letters to cross off but the majority of the books I’d lined up were all over 300. That wouldn’t do. The Reader comes in at under 200, which means I already loved it before I’d even opened it.
Readers sure do love books that talk about reading. Especially books that talk about the power of words and the impact the right ones can have on a person’s life. Ultimately, The Reader is a book about novels saving people and bringing them together. Well, not novels I guess but pages from them. This charming and sweet read introduces us to the man who reads aloud on his journey to work. An action that captivates his fellow passengers and makes them commute something noteworthy. We see strangers sharing a moment but all experiencing it differently. Reading is a personal experience in that we all assign out our meaning to a text. Yet, the act of listening can connect us on a deeper level.
As soon as Guylain Vignolles takes his seat on the 6.27 train every day, he gets out a bunch of single book pages and reads them to his fellow passengers. It has become a tradition that nobody wants to miss out on. The pages have been saved from the savage pulping machine that Guylain operates every day. Reading them gives them a purpose and another chance at touching someone. When the reader discovers the diary of a young woman, he starts reading them to his audience. They all become engrossed in the inner thoughts of a simple toilet attendant and Guylain decides he wants to track her down. Can her writing help him find her?
The Reader is one of those quirky reads that will take you on a journey of emotions. It doesn’t do anything particularly exciting and won’t be a great read for someone who favours plot. However, there is plenty going on here. The characters all feel so fleshed out and original. These are characters lifted straight from a French film or a Wes Anderson movie. They have a sense of reality but are slightly outside of the norm. They feel human but they are outsiders. You’ll love them all in their own way and wish that you could spend more time with them.
Particularly our hero. Guylain is a man in his late 30s who is lying to his mother about his life because he is so full of regret. Instead of being a success in the publishing world, Guylain spends his days destroying books before coming home to his fish. It is not a worthless life by any means. His simple action touches so many people and forges new relationships for him. His defiance against his boss allows the words on these pages to fulfil their purpose. If only he could find his own purpose. It is when he finds the diary of the lonely toilet attendant, Julie, that he realises that this reader may have finally found the words that will change everything.
Normally, I’m not a huge fan of slushy romance but I was captivated by this story. It is fast-paced which kind of helps. There’s no waiting around and wasting time. Guylain gets stuff done. This is a story of loneliness. Of people living with plenty of regrets. It is also a story about how stories can help people make sense of their lives or, at least, provide an escape. After becoming famous for his morning performances, Guylain is invited to read at an old people’s home. His hour-long reading of random pages is enough to bring life back to many of the residents. They debate the text and argue over the context. It shows that even disconnected words and paragraphs can stimulate you in so many ways.
Mostly, The Reader is a book for readers. It keeps hinting at something darker and more deadly. Yet it never goes in that direction. Instead, it just lets the simple story of human existence play out before your eyes. If you love a quirky and charming story then I’d recommend this one.