Review: The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain

The Readers' Room

Antoine Laurain’s sixth novel is a gloriously French thriller that you’ll devour in one sitting. 

 

I’ve been a fan of Antoine Laurain’s writing for several years now. I started with French Rhapsody and was so taken with his wit and distinctively French outlook on the world that I’d soon completed his entire back catalogue.

So, when I heard that his new book, The Readers’ Room, was a thriller set in a Parisian publishing house, I jumped at the chance to read an advance copy. You see, ever since my husband proposed to me at the Eiffel Tower on New Year’s Day 2017, I’ve been a massive Francophile who seeks out novels set in Paris at every opportunity. Of course, I’m a lifelong bibliophile too so The Readers’ Room offered a double whammy of indulgence. And it did not disappoint.

What’s it all about?

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:

When the manuscript of a debut crime novel arrives at a Parisian publishing house, everyone in the readers’ room is convinced it’s something special. And the committee for France’s highest literary honour, the Prix Goncourt, agrees.

But when the shortlist is announced, there’s a problem for editor Violaine Lepage: she has no idea of the author’s identity. As the police begin to investigate a series of murders strangely reminiscent of those recounted in the book, Violaine is not the only one looking for answers. And, suffering memory blanks following an aeroplane accident, she’s beginning to wonder what role she might play in the story…

What did I think?

I adored this book.

It has all of Laurain’s distinctive, playful charm but is imbued with an undercurrent of darkness. The mystery elements of the plot are well formed and teased at precisely the right pace; there’s always a danger in short novels (this is just 172 pages) that too much is given away too quickly but Laurain gets the rhythm just right here.

The book is about books. The scenes in the publishing house lift the lid on the selection process and often sheer serendipity of being picked from a pile of hopeful manuscripts. There is also a thread running throughout the novel about the power of books to imitate life, move their readers and to articulate the truths we often ignore or refuse to see.

Maya Angelou’s quote about people never forgetting how you make them feel always springs to my mind when I read or think about Laurain’s work. His books create such a sense of place that I’m transported to Paris on page one and don’t leave until the final chapter.

The Readers’ Room is a taught thriller that you’ll read in one, all-consuming sitting.

It’s published by Gallic Books on 22 September. You can explore the rest of their extraordinary books here.

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