A daily routine, seemingly so mundane, day in and day out, it was the morning train journey to the factory by Guylain, a move he had taken in his stride without a fuss. Not that he didn’t seek a more exciting life, but such an opportunity had not come his way. He worked in the pulping factory where books were shredded by the machine, saving space and making way for more that awaited the same fate once they are discarded. It was an exercise that did not have any variation, and there was no question of selection, just the gathering of books, the subject of which could be any, and they all fell to the jaws of the shredder, pulped and gone. He did not reveal the truth of his job to his mother who lived in the suburbs, and she continued to believe that her son was, indeed, a man doing well in the highly competitive Parisian world, while he used euphemisms to hide his monotony behind the constructed narrative screen.
There was one thing, however, which Guylain relished, and this was also a source of delight for all those who happened to be present beside him as he went about it. What was it? He took the 6:27 train daily to work and he used this time and space to read aloud, and no wonder, this was one habit he loved to indulge in: “Guylain was a breath of fresh air who, for the duration of the 21-minute journey, allowed them briefly to forget the tedium of their lives. For all those fellow commuters, he was the reader, the bizarre character who each weekday would read out, in a loud, clear voice, from the handful of pages he extracted from his briefcase. These were completely unrelated fragments of books. Part of a recipe might find itself teamed up with page 48 of the latest Goncourt winner, or a paragraph from a crime novel might follow a page from a history book. Guylain had no interest in the content. Only the act of reading mattered to him. He enunciated the words, whatever they were, with the same passionate dedication. And each time, the magic worked.”
Indeed, an event that wasn’t replicated ordinarily in other trains – this, however, was one which stood out for its novelty even as it operated within the same frame. It was during one such morning that Guylain happened to find a USB drive which contained the daily jottings of a girl called Julie, 14,717 of them. Who this Julie was and what her situation was – Guylain had no idea. He read from her passages to his fellow-commuters, and it captivated them no end. What he gathered from her numerous writings was that she was an assistant of some sort in a shopping enclave, attending to cubicles and their upkeep but where and what place exactly remained a mystery. Even the old-age home that Guylain visited every week to read aloud passages from found a keen audience eagerly lapping up Julie’s entries, seeking more every time. Seemingly accidental and unaccounted for, it is such interactions with people who had no presence previously coming to occupy the central space in life – this realisation was what dawned upon Guylain as he sought to locate the Julie he knew so well through her diary scribblings. While his fellow-travellers on the morning train looked for him, they had their own reasons for such anticipation: “When the train pulled into the station and the passengers alighted, an outside observer would have had no trouble noticing how Guylain’s listeners stood out from the rest of the commuters. Their faces did not wear that off-putting mask of indifference. They all had the contented look of an infant that has drunk its fill of milk.” Does he eventually find Julie, and is there anything that would make the ordinariness stand out in a dash of light? The answer to this lies in the pages of The Reader on the 6.27, a delightful novel by French writer Jean-Paul Didierlaurent, a book which invites us to attend to the randomness of experience that sparkles in the midst of the lives encompassed by predictability.