Monday 27 March 2023

The Readers' Room

Finished March 21
The Readers' Room by Antoine Laurain, translated by Jane Aitken, Emily Boyce and Polly Mackintosh

This short novel was one I picked up because I enjoyed his Vintage 1954 book. This one is also set mostly in Paris and revolves around a small unnamed publishing house, and its Head of Manuscript Services, Violaine Lepage. Violaine is in charge of the readers' room, a group of people who read the manuscripts sent in and determine if they are worth moving forward with. They classify the books using three symbols. A square indicates rejection. A crescent moon means it is promising. A sun means that they should publish.
The book opens with Violaine waking in a dark room, and seeing various figures around here. We soon discover that she is in a hospital room and later learn why. 
The firm has recently taken on a new book by a new author. The book is called Sugar Flowers and the author's name is Camille Deséncres. It is a book that caught their attention at first reading, and was given a sun symbol. The negotiation for the contract with the author was all done via email, and now the book is on the shortlist for the Prix Goncourt, one of France's biggest literary awards. But the publishing house has a potential problem regarding the author.
Alongside this part of the story is another one, this one involving Sophie Tanche a police detective in Rouen. Some crimes have been committed there that bear a strong resemblance to ones in Sugar Flowers and Tanche wants to know more about the author as part of her investigation. 
Through the course of the novel we learn Violaine's backstory, how she came to be in her position, how she met her husband, her shrink Pierre Stein, and the recent developments as a result of her accident. 
We also learn about some of the members of the Readers' Room, like Beatrice who is blind, and Marie, the newest member. 
This is a novel with a unique plot and some interesting quirks. Set in a world of books and authors, it also has strong influences from the world around it. There is a lot packed into these few pages. A book that is hard to put down. 

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