I read fictions about travelling and also fictions about books, so when I stumbled upon the book entitled ‘The Girl Who Reads on the Métro’ and its synopsis, I had to get hold of it.
It is a French novel by Christine Féret–Fleury and translated into English by Ros Schwartz. It is an enchanting story made of literary references, happy to note that some of the books are amongst my collection though I have not read all of them. I need to speed up my reading.
In The Girl Who Reads on the Métro Juliette is a property agent and she takes the Métro to her office every morning. She avidly reads on her journey to work and when she observes her fellow commuters reading, she imagines what their choices might say about them. One day, she decides to alight the train a few stops before her destination, she stumbles on Soliman, the mysterious owner of the most enchanting bookshop Juliette has ever seen.
Juliette’s grandfather was a bookseller and she used to love his shop when she was little and she loved helping him as she adored the smell of books.
‘The smell of books …it would hit her even before she walked into the bookshop, the moment she caught sight of the narrow window where her grandfather only ever displayed one volume at a time, usually an open art book on a stand, and each day he would turn one page. People stopped, she recalled, to look at the picture of the day: little Jacob van Ruisdael, a portrait by Jean-Baptiste Greuze,a seascape by Nicholas Ozanne……
For the little girl, and later adolescent, the shop was the palace out of One Thousand and One Nights;it was her refuge on wet Wednesday afternoons, which she spent arranging the new arrivals on the shelves or reading in the stock room. A passionate book lover, always on the lookout for rare editions, her grandfather bought entire collections of second-hand books, most of which were piled up in tall crates to the right of the door. Rummaging through these treasures, Juliette had discovered not only the classics of children’s literature, but also works by authors who’d gone out of fashion:Charles Morgan, Daphne du Maurier, Barbey d’Aurevilly, and a whole host of English female novelists, including Rosamond Lehmann. She, of course, devoured Agatha Christie novels like sweets …….’
Soliman believes in the power of books to change the course of a life and he entrusts his passeurs with the task of presenting the perfect book to the person who needs it most.
When Juliette steps into Soliman’s house, he assumes that she will become one of his passeurs and that’s why she is there. He holds out to her a pile of books and explains to her how it works. He does not go out and he expects his passeurs to give a description of the people to whom they have passed his books. Before she passes these people any of these books, she must follow them and study them carefully to find out what book they need, work out which one would give them the hope, or the energy, or the anger they are lacking.
As the story progresses, Juliette quits her loathed job and in the course of meeting other readers, she gradually grows up and gain new insights about living and experiencing life on the road rather than merely seeking refuge in books.
The Girl Who Reads on the Métro is indeed a delightful story for book lovers. Its premise is absolutely charming. After reading the novel, I chanced upon a book blog entitled The Book Trail, a wonderful blog about books and places that are featured in fictions.