We have established that I have the best job in the world. The combination of books, cakes and, frankly, permission to talk to customers about books and cakes is pretty irresistible I think. I’ve had other jobs over the years but, to be honest, doing price changes on shelves full of shower-gel, unpacking deliveries of cds and taking the staples out of boxes and boxes of old invoices were not as interesting. Life-modelling was fun, but mostly because I could read while I worked and if I ate too much cake no-one complained. I think you see the pattern here. I am a very, very lucky person to have a job that I love so much. Of course most people are not so fortunate…
Guylain Vignolles is one of the unluckiest of the unlucky ones. He, like me, loves reading but his job is to destroy books in a huge machine at a pulping factory. Now I know that books get pulped but I also know that some publishers used to send books to be punched full of holes in prisons. Destroying books seems more appropriate as a punishment than as a job in my opinion. Guylain, however, knows this is an awful job and to achieve some kind of karmic balance he spends his journey into work each morning reading out loud, on the 6.27 train, random pages which he rescues from the depths of The Beast (as he has named the pulping machine). There are other characters – a security guard who declaims in Alexandrines, work colleagues who see the books just as so much tonnage to get through and one who was invalided out of the job after a horrific accident – but the story really starts to develop when Guylain finds a memory-stick containing the diary of a young woman. He starts to read these diary entries on his daily commute and then realises he needs to find the author of the words he is reading.
We Brits associate Paris and the French with love but often we want nice, safe English love stories set in the city of romance. This is a wonderfully gallic novel, where romance and intellectualism reign supreme. Without resorting to saccharine sweetness, but with style and wit, this book left me with a serious case of the warm fuzzies which, I hope, will see me through an entire English spring….