With concentrating on best of posts after Christmas, I got seriously behind reviewing books the I’d read, so here is a ‘twofer’ finishing up my fiction list and leaving just one non-fiction book read in 2016 left to review…
The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent
Translated by Ros Schwartz
Guylain Vignolles is a man of habit. He catches the 6.27 train in to work every day, he sits on the same hard orange seat, and once underway he takes a folder from his briefcase.
He opened it cautiously and exhumed a piece of paper from between two sheets of candy-pink blotting paper. The flimsy, half-torn page with a tattered top left-hand corner dangled from his fingers. It was a page from a standard six-by-nine-inch format book. Guylain examined it for a moment then placed it carefully back on the blotting paper. The carriage gradually fell silent. Sometimes, there was a reproving ‘Shh’ to silence the few conversations that had not petered out. Then, as he did every morning, Guylain cleared his throat and began reading aloud:
Guylain works in a dispiriting factory – a paper-pulping plant, operating a giant machine which is fed a constant diet of books – he hates his job. The random pages he reads to his fellow passenger are odd ones that have escaped the chomping jaws of ‘The Thing‘. Then, one day he discovers diary pages written by a lonely young woman called Julie – and he falls in love with her.
This is a truly delightful story full of wonderful characters, from Yvon Grimbert the security guard with a passion for classical theatre, to the old ladies who hire him to read to them in their retirement home, and old Guiseppe who had been injured unjamming The Thing.
There are superificial similarities in this tale with The Peculiar Life of a Lonely Postman by Denis Thériault, a possibly unrequitable love found in pages vs stolen letters. Guylain doesn’t have the twisted motives of the postman, and consequently this book is a charming and uplifting fable, told with humour and also a testament to a love of literature, written in the way so many French authors do so well. Loved it. (9.5/10)
Source: Own copy.
The Eleventh Letter by Tom Tomaszewski
This is the second novel to be published through kickstarting by new indie publisher Dodo Ink. It’s a sophisticated ghost story that plays with memory, described as ‘Lynchian’ in the blurb.
Chris, a psychotherapist with offices in Harley Street, London, finds himself having to spend the night there when heavy snow brings the capital to a halt. Looking out of the window he sees a woman standing on the steps of the building opposite:
I wanted to hide, but she’d seen me. I looked at her. […] I knocked on the glass.
She stared at me, confused – dazed, as though she’d just woken up. She smiled nervously and nodded in a way that somehow felt expected. There was something about her smile, something inevitable, in the way you might see someone walking towards you, in the distance, down a long straight path, and know well before your paths crossed that you would eventually have to acknowledge each other with a nod, a smile, or a polite word. But I’ve never seen her before. I was sure of it.
Kay, comes up to join him in his office refuge. She discovers some old cassette tapes of interviews from a murder trial that Chris had been involved in as a psychiatrist in the defence of Louise, accused of the ‘Pisa killings’ back in 1986. Chris had been convinced she was innocent. Kay persuades him to play the tapes and together they listen through the night, having retired to a nearby hotel together.
The narrative starts jumps between then and now, except that increasingly now feels like then and sometimes then feels like now for Chris who feels as if he was seeing Louise again, reliving the events of 1986. Kay appears to be the catalyst for bringing all the confusion and trauma Chris suffered and repressed back to the surface to deal with at last. But who is Kay?
The author plays with his protagonist’s memories in an intricate tapestry of truths and lies, mis-remembered and half-remembered ghost-like thoughts, leading to some startling realisations. It was cleverly done, but I didn’t warm to Chris – or any of the characters in the earlier time-frame. Consequently I found it difficult to be completely involved in the complex story unravelling in front of me which mostly happens in the past, whereas in the novel’s present it was easier to believe in him – and the enigmatic Kay. A different kind of ghost story. (7.5/10)
Source: Publisher – thank you.
Tom Tomaszewski, The Eleventh Letter (Dodo Ink, 2016) paperback original, 288 pages.