Review Blog

Dec 17 2019

The girl who reads on the Metro by Christine Feret-Fleury

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Translated from French by Ros Schwartz. Mantle, 2019. ISBN: 9781509868339.
(Age: 16+) Highly recommended. Travelling on the Paris Metro to work in a real estate office, Juliette had often passed her time covertly making out the book titles or the page being perused by fellow commuters, and wondered about the lives of the readers and their book choices. In a spontaneous variation to her route one day, an encounter with a sprite of a girl, Zaide, leads her to the strange dusty world of a bookshop, 'Books Unlimited', and its mysterious owner Soliman, who dispenses books to 'passeurs' - not the agents of the secret French resistance WWII escape routes, but people who pass on books to the person most in need of them. Soliman tells Juliette about Hornbaker's concept of BookCrossing, releasing books into the wild, leaving books in public places for people to find; only Soliman wants his passeurs to give the right book to the right reader. It reminded me of Ranganathan's laws of library science: every person his or her book; and, every book its reader. Juliette had been studying readers on the Metro for a long time but the idea of matching the right book to the right reader seems overwhelming to her. But somehow she seems to have the knack . . .
The novel is set in the modern world of stressed work lives and mobile phones, but the story invokes the quirkiness of past French films, and I could just see Amelie star Audrey Tatou in the role of Juliette, a person of lightness and grace, caught in the humdrum of daily life, and bringing a spark to her encounters with a variety of unusual people: the man in the green hat with his insect book, the sad woman with Italian recipes, the pretty young woman tearfully reading page 247 of the romance novel.
However Juliette has always led a sheltered life, never going further than the few Metro stops to her work, her only adventures those in the books she's read. When she enters into the bookshop with its teetering piles of books, and then is suddenly asked to take care of it all, the task seems overwhelming. But the friends she has come to know help her to inevitably take courage and find her true vocation.
This is definitely a book for book lovers; there are many references to treasures of literature, both classical and modern. At the end there is a list of amazing books. Readers will be familiar with many, but are invited to also add their own favourites, books they would "recommend to a friend - or to your worst enemy, so they will no longer be so, if the magic works".
Helen Eddy

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