The Reader on the 6.27, The Man Who Was Thursday, The Red Coat, and The Gown

 The Reader on the 6.27 by Jean-Paul Didierlaurent

A book about books, or maybe more about words, and the impact they have on people's lives. Guylain lives alone, has few friends, and every morning takes the same train to a menial job that he hates. He operates a huge machine, which he thinks of as "The Thing", that turns millions of unwanted books into a grey pulp “expelled in the form of great steaming turds” that is in turn used to create more books. He defies the machine by rescuing a few pages every day and reading them aloud on the train. People pay attention and before long two passengers ask him to come and read at their senior's home. He does, leading to experiences that are poignant and funny and wonderful to read. Another story line tells of a friend, the former operator of The Thing, who lost both legs while trying to dislodge stuck material that had brought the machine to a halt. That part is a bit grizzly. Then there's Julie, who loses a memory stick containing her diary on the train, which Guylain reads, prints out and begins to use for his daily readings on the way to work. He finds in her writing, for the first time in his life, someone who is like him, who understands loneliness, and he begins to fall in love. With the little identifying information he gets from her journal, knowing only that she is a washroom attendant (providing plenty of opportunity for more bowel talk) somewhere in a mall, he sets out to find her. 

I wasn't sure about this one in the beginning. Reviewers called it touching and beautiful but I couldn't find that in the first few chapters, which only described Guylain's rather grim existence and his hatred for "The Thing". But it soon became something deeper, something that is touching and beautiful, something that says there is colour to be found in even the most grey existence. It truly is a wonderful story, with just a few too many human waste references for my liking.

The Man Who Was Thursday: A Nightmare by G.K. Chesterton

This is a detective story...and/or a mystery...a fantasy...a weird and wonderful tale of intrigue and secret identities...I'm really not sure what to call it. It begins with two in-disguise men going to a secret meeting of anarchists, where one of them is chosen to be a leader of the group whose leaders are all named for days of the week. Thus he becomes The Man who was Thursday. 

In my book club some of the books included "A Nightmare" in the title and some did not, making it a very strange story for a few of our readers. As the story unfolds more false identities are discovered and hidden purposes uncovered. There comes a point at which it moves out of the realm of weird into the absolutely impossible, and those who hadn't known it was a nightmare from the beginning figured it out then. 

I highly recommend you look for reviews online to get a more coherent explanation. I can only say I thought it well written, weird, and I liked it. And that it needs studying. The surface level reading I gave it hardly does it justice.

The Red Coat by Dolley Carlson

The Red Coat, A Novel of Boston follows two families, one wealthy, one working class, in south Boston. The wealthy lady gives a red coat belonging to, but seldom worn by, her daughter, to her cleaning lady, who passes it on to one of her own daughters. There's not a great deal of plot, more a record of the lives of these two families. The red coat is the connecting factor but it never really lives up to the importance the title gives it. Yes it gets worn and passed on, but I didn't find it all that significant to the story. The city of Boston is almost a character in itself, so anyone from there will probably find it quite interesting. I enjoyed the book well enough, though I found the plot and characters a bit flat. The one character I liked died halfway through, and after that I was just reading to see how it ended. But I didn't give it up, so that says something.  

The Gown by Jennifer Robson

Two timelines, but well woven together and quite easy to follow. In one a young woman's grandmother dies, leaving her a box of fabric flowers exquisitely embroidered and trimmed with pearls. Never having known her to sew, her granddaughter sets out to discover where they came from and why they were important to her. The other timeline has the grandmother as a young girl working for a design firm in London after the war. She and a friend are assigned to the team who will create the wedding gown for the upcoming nuptials of the young Princess Elizabeth, 

The title says it's a "novel of the royal wedding" but that's a little misleading. The story focuses on the lives of the two young women in the past and the present- day girl who is gradually uncovering her Grandmother's history. The wedding does come into it briefly but it's not a story about that specifically. It is definitely about the gown: how it came together from start to finish and the enormous amount of talent, effort, and time that went into it. I loved getting a look at the process from early concept to final completion of such an iconic gown. 

It's well written with believable characters and a good story. There was one plot twist that felt out of place, not the event itself, more the way it was presented. It seemed to come out of nowhere so suddenly that I almost heard that screeching record stop they use in movies. 

Overall, though, I liked this one.