Books on books are my favorite kind of books. There is something immensely comforting in reading about someone who finds her way through books. It reinforces my belief that no matter what there is bound to be a book to help us make sense of things.
Christine Féret-Fleury has written over 80 of them. In 1996, she wrote her debut children’s book. ‘The Girl Who Reads on the Metro’ is her first adult novel to be translated into English.
The book caught my eye obviously because of the title but also because of the cover with Parisian houses. It just felt like a good read. It looked soothing—which is something we all need a little of right now. But now that I’ve read it, I’m kind of on the fence about it. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would but I don’t want to say anything bad about it either. It was a short, cute story but it had some major hiccups.
It’s about a character who loves to read, and who works with books. There are mentions of many books I love. But the story isn’t convincing. It’s about a girl named Juliette who lives in Paris. She hates her job as a realtor but she loves commuting on the metro where she gets to read and see what her fellow commuters are reading.
One day, she decides to get off at a different station than her regular one. She meets Soliman, the owner of an enchanting bookstore who believes books have the power to change lives. He gives Juliette a job as a passeur—someone who match-makes people with second-hand books. Juliette quits her job and then goes around giving the books Soliman assigns her to those who she thinks need them the most. Soliman, on the other hand, keeps a meticulous record of where the books end up.
It's an interesting premise. The problem is it’s not well worked on and things are a bit vague. You see all these fascinating things happening but you don’t really understand the why and the how. It’s also difficult to get attached to the characters, mostly because they feel a little underdeveloped. The connections between the characters also feel a bit forced. The writing too isn’t great but that might not necessarily be the author’s fault. Many things, I feel, might have been lost in translation.
The good thing about The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is that it’s a short book. You can easily finish it in a single afternoon. And it’s fun to hear someone talking about and dealing with books—holding them, smelling them. The idea that you could get so immersed in books that you completely forget the real world is intriguing. It’s something I’ve been contemplating ever since I finished the book.
Originally published in France as ‘La fille qui lisait dans le métro’
Translated into English by Ros Schwartz
Publisher: Pan Books
Pages: 199, Paperback