His name is Guylain Vignolles, but ever since childhood that name has been twisted into Vilain Guignol, which means “ugly puppet” in French. The result is a 36 year-old man who has spent his entire life melting into the background and trying to make himself invisible. We are therefore very much on his side and feel sympathy for what fate has thrust on him.
Guylain works at a pulping mill, where remaindered books are sliced apart, pulped and recycled back into different books. From inside the terrible machine that does this work, Guylain manages to rescue single sheets of paper – the “sole survivors of the massacre” he calls them. Each morning, on the same 6:27 train, he reads these excerpts aloud to his fellow passengers. Despite the randomness of the sheets, from recipes to bodice rippers, those around him love this daily show.
Even with his rescued pages, Guylain still hates his job and the people he works with. He has very few friends and spends much of his home life in a one-sided conversation with his goldfish. The two friends he does have are quirky and wonderful, one constantly recites lines from plays and the other lost his legs inside the pulping machine. I would love to tell you more about them, but that would ruin the fun of discovering their priceless life stories.
One morning on the train, Guylain finds a USB stick containing the diary of a young woman. With the help of his legless friend he starts on a journey to find this woman, about whom he has already discovered so much.
The joy and beauty of this book lie in its simplicity. The language is simple and the descriptions are just enough to allow the reader to form wonderful pictures in the mind. It is full of humour and it is all about the power of literature and words to move people.
If you have read and enjoyed The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, or loved the film My Afternoons with Margueritte, then you will enjoy this book.