reader-on-the-6-27Location: 1847—our favourite veggie restaurant in Birmingham. As always, delicious halloumi and chips.

Theme: A book under 200 pages.

Chosen by: Raman

A book about reading on a train, the Unconventional Book Club read this book: on a train (the 6.21), in Cornwall, on a plane to Cape Verde, on a plane to Malaga, and in the Tuscan hills.

Reader on the 6.27 is an unusual book that defies adequate description, which is perhaps why the blurb is at best inadequate and at worst misleading. In lieu of a good blurb, this strange little French book is about a wet lettuce of a man with a reasonably good heart who reads aloud on a train every day to bring some interest to his otherwise dull life, working in a job he hates at a book pulping factory, with a friend whose legs got eaten by the pulping machine, and on a quest to find a woman whose diary he finds and decides to read.

This all makes for an interesting, quirky concept with great potential. A guy reading out loud on a train? Sounds great. Indeed, on the whole, the majority of the group enjoyed Reader on the 6.27. It’s an easy read with pleasingly short chapters, making perfect train-journey-length reads. There were also some extremely funny parts, particularly the saucy reading-out-loud incident in the nursing home.

Adding to its strangeness, there’s no real beginning, middle, or end. The book takes a while to get going, with lots of superfluous detail near the beginning regarding sub-characters who are seemingly unimportant, forgotten later in the book, or are left undeveloped. There was also an unpleasant amount of grim in-depth toilet and waste expulsion stories from diary-writer Julie, who is a toilet attendant. Having recently reviewed Eileen, we couldn’t help but ask what’s the preoccupation with toilets and waste?

Despite most of the group’s enjoyment of the book, much criticism was levelled at it even from those who liked it—a strange outcome in itself. Reviews ranged from “I didn’t really like any of the characters, but I enjoyed reading it” to “I didn’t hate it” to “it was dull”. Equally, none of us really got the point of the book or the inclusion of some elements.

Perhaps due to its diminutive length, parts of the story felt underdeveloped, the side characters felt like caricatures, and some details were included that were wholly unexplained. It felt there was more back story to be plumbed, especially in Guylain’s relationship with his parents. Then, when it felt like the book was about to take off, it rudely ended.

Indeed, the largest criticism was regarding the ending, which is abrupt to say the least. In an unsatisfactory ending, the reader doesn’t discover the fate of Guylain’s friend Giuseppe, nor the outcome of Guylain and Julie’s potential relationship. We were left wondering are they supposed to just live happily ever after? Since the characters seemed highly unsuited to each other, did the author just spare the reader the inevitability of them not working out?

If you write a short book, the details need to be on point. Instead, it felt like some aspects were lost in translation. What was so hideous about Guylain’s name—and why didn’t he just change it? Why does a man who tries to blend in read aloud on a train? If he loves books so much, why doesn’t he look for a new job rather than one killing books? Why does he search several shopping centres before checking the one that he knew from Julie’s diary was exactly the right size?

Despite the questions and criticisms raised, the book scored fairly highly and is certainly different. It’s perhaps best summarised by one book clubber’s review, “I liked it despite its obvious shortcomings”.

Score: 7

If you’ve read Reader on the 6.27, feel free to score it out of 5 using the star rating above.

You can buy it on Amazon here.