Pulp fiction…

Books about bookshops and the book world are a bit of a Thing at the moment, which is very interesting to observe, from the inside as it were. My favourite so far is The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, translated from the French by Ros Schwartz.

It feels particularly French in an Amelie-ish way, with a quirky melancholy that could be a bit cloying but instead turns out to be charming and funny. Guylain Vignolles works at a book pulping factory where, everyday, he retrieves any pages that have not been completely consumed by the monstrous pulping machine. He then reads the pages aloud on the 6.27 train, dropping the disconnected, ravaged paragraphs into the world, to an often entranced audience of travellers and commuters. Guylain is unhappy and stuck, until on the train he finds a diary, left behind by a young woman, which he begins to read aloud…

I think the very best bits may be those dealing with the scary and oddly-alive seeming pulping machine. It squats in a mostly empty warehouse while Guylain shovels endless fuel into its gaping saw, like it is a caged beast in a zoo. Caught in a never-ending cycle the machine pulps unsold books which are turned into paper for new books which may be pulped in a couple of years. The pulper is fascinating: the description of how it actually pulps the books is eye-widening, and you find yourself giving your own books a comforting pat. Marx and Engels would have loved it as a description of the industrial process chewing up the workers of the world. Guylain’s quixotic urge to save what words he can, and then free them on the train, creating moments of meaningless beauty, is completely understandable in the face of the dread machine which rules his life.

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