For a book that attempts to celebrate the magical power of the medium, The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is certainly underwhelming. Although written by a prolific French author, the results appear lost in translation. What could have been an exciting and energetic meditation on the restorative power of these delightful things, is instead, a rather flat and lifeless tome.
Christine Féret-Fleury has penned eighty titles. This is the first to be translated into English. Potential readers are likely to be seduced by the quaint cover and the enigmatic title: after all, it’s about a lady who lives in Paris! But it can be hard to feel a connection with many of the characters, because most of them seem quite underdeveloped.
The main protagonist Juliette, is a woman who is in a rut. She works a tedious office job as a realtor. She is trapped within her routine, catching the same train every morning. Often she finds herself amongst the same people every day, many of whom spend their commute reading.
One day, Juliette decides to get off at a different station. It’s there she discovers the mysterious bookseller, Soliman and his precocious daughter, Zaide. The shop-owner gives Juliette a job as a passeur, a person who match-makes people with second-hand books. It’s a quirky and fun idea.
There are some decent ingredients here and you can see this appealing to readers that love bibliotherapy. But the prose lacks any serious depth. In the story, Féret-Fleury does namedrop some authors and their works, including Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. A list is also provided at the end along with some questions for book clubs.
The ideas presented in this novel are not anything new. In fact, the ladies behind The Book Ninja explored some similar ideas in a much more engaging way. Other readers may also prefer The Little Paris Bookshop which also proved to be far more entertaining. The Girl Who Reads on the Metro tries to explore some interesting ideas but its lack of cohesive narrative and flat characterisation make for a rather hollow and disjointed story.
The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is a swift and easy read. It attempts some big themes including: identity crises, the transformative nature of reading, and risk-taking but it does so in an overly simplistic way. This feel-good piece of fiction feels a bit too shallow and often like it’s telling half, rather than the whole story.
ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE).
Christine Féret-Fleury’s The Girl Who Reads on the Metro is available now through Pan Macmillan.