Before reading this book, I had the impression that it would be sweet, possibly romantic, story. Based on the synopsis alone, I expected that the protagonist, Juliette, would be a bit socially awkward, but in an endearing way. Perhaps she would be a Matilda-like character; someone who generally prefers the company of books rather than people. I presumed that she would be a character who garners sympathy, someone I would be rooting for. I was correct on a few of my initial guesses, but woefully wrong on others. Juliette was indeed socially awkward, but she did not come across as a well-rounded character. Some aspects of the character are shown, but the edges felt fuzzy. I was not convinced by Juliette, or her story.
We are, naturally, introduced to Juliette on the metro. She is on her morning commute to her job in an estate agent, and to pass the time she observes those around her. Intriguingly, the only thing that Juliette seems to read, or attempt to read, on the metro is other people’s minds. She considers what her fellow commuters are reading, and wonders what this says about them. She imagines fantastical stories for these strangers, but is seemingly bored by her day-to-day life. Juliette takes the same train to work everyday, goes home after work, and follows her structured daily routine. Her everyday existence is like clockwork; her routine is rarely disrupted. She has had some romantic relationships in the past, but is single now. She does not seem to have any friends except her co-worked Claire, who she doesn’t really seem to particularly like. It is a lonely existence.
That is, until one day on her way to work she is distracted by a young girl and ends up in a book shop. Here she meets the owner of the shop, and he assumes that she is one of shop’s passeurs. The passeurs are responsible for taking books from the shop, and finding owners for them. They are tasked with observing those around them and matching books to personalities. This is a fascinating premise, but unfortunately it is not one that is fully explored in The Girl Who Reads on the Metro.
One of the primary issues that I have with The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is the pacing. The plot rushes on from the passeur concept in order to focus on a different plot which centres on Juliette’s relationship with those who are involved with the book shop. This also could have been a captivating story line, but it also felt rushed. Towards the end of book I found myself uninterested in the character. It is a shame really. While I do feel that Juliette did change in a meaningful way, and the story was sweet, there was a lot of missed potential here. The Girl Who Reads on the Metro could have been a beautiful story about a young woman who breaks free of her routine and learns to embrace the world around her, but instead it was simply forgettable.
Juliette leads a perfectly ordinary life in Paris, working a slow office job, dating a string of not-quite-right men, and fighting off melancholy. The only bright spots in her day are her metro rides across the city and the stories she dreams up about the strangers reading books across from her: the old lady, the math student, the amateur ornithologist, the woman in love, the girl who always tears up at page 247.
One morning, avoiding the office for as long as she can, Juliette finds herself on a new block, in front of a rusty gate wedged open with a book. Unable to resist, Juliette walks through, into the bizarre and enchanting lives of Soliman and his young daughter, Zaide. Before she realises entirely what is happening, Juliette agrees to become a passeur, Soliman’s names for the booksellers he hires to take stacks of used books out of his store and into the world, using their imagination and intuition to match books with readers. Suddenly, Juliette’s daydreaming becomes her reality, and when Solimon asks her to move in to their store to take care of Zaide while he goes away, she has to decide if she is ready to throw herself headfirst into this new life.
Christine Féret-Fleury is a French publisher and author. She wrote her debut children’s novel Le Petit Tamour in 1996, followed by her debut adult novel Les vagues sont douces comme des tigres in 1999. Her debut novel for adults won the Antigone Prize. The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is her first novel for adults to be translated into English.
The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a beautifully written, quick read. It is a sweet story, but unfortunately it is ultimately forgettable.
You can purchase The Girl Who Reads on the Metro here.
Have you read this book? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below.