#BookReview The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain @BelgraviaB

The Readers' RoomAbout the Book

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 …

Format: Paperback (176 pages)    Publisher: Gallic Books
Publication date: 17th June 2021 Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Mystery, Literature in Translation

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My Review

I really enjoyed Antoine Laurain’s amusing novel The President’s Hat so had no hesitation in accepting the kind offer by Isabelle Flynn at Gallic Books of a review copy of the new paperback edition of The Readers’ Room, translated by Emily Boyce and Jane Aitken. The Readers’ Room was originally published in hardback in September 2020.

Set in the world of publishing it’s full of references to authors past and present, and to the often tortuous process of getting a book from blank page, to spiral bound manuscript, to finished edition. The book focuses on the gatekeepers of the process at the publishing house where editor Violaine Lepage works – the members of the readers’ room. Their task is to review unsolicited manuscripts in order to sort the wheat from the chaff. Usually it’s mostly the latter but then the manuscript of a novel entitled Sugar Flowers arrives. All the readers agree it’s something out of the ordinary even if its author seems unusually anxious to conceal their identity.

An element of the uncanny is introduced when a series of murders appear to match those in the book. Soon Violaine and the detective investigating the case, Inspector Sophie Tanche, discover they have a mutual interest in tracking down the author of the novel. For Violaine, it’s about maximising the publicity benefits that arise from having published a prize-winning book. For Sophie it’s about successfully solving the murders.

The author, like his fictional counterpart, has fun throwing in all sorts of red herrings to keep the reader guessing whilst at the same time making sly digs at the inner workings of the publishing industry. For instance, the lunches at which editors feed their authors “like fat misanthropic cats they’re hoping to butter up and make purr”. I suspect the author may also have misgivings about the proliferation of modern technology given brief scenes featuring a rather unsettling encounter with an advanced AI program and a sat nav that answers back. Naturally, as a Parisian, the author has no trouble conjuring up the atmosphere of his home city with its grand parks and avenues lined with restaurants, bars and brasseries.

If you subscribe to the view that everyone has a novel in them, you’ll enjoy the following image from early in the book. “All those phantom books form a sort of enveloping cloud around literature like the ozone layer around the earth.” In fact, in the book, Violaine has some rather unearthly encounters with authors such as Marcel Proust and Virginia Woolf.

They say truth is stranger than fiction, but is it? And was Oscar Wilde right when he said “life imitates art far more than art imitates life”? I confess the solution to the mystery when it came didn’t quite live up to the ingenuity of the rest of the book but The Readers’ Room remains an extremely entertaining read.

In three words: Clever, witty, stylish

Try something similar: The Forgers by Bradford Morrow or The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

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Antoine Laurain
Pascal Ito © Flammarion

About the Author

Antoine Laurain is the bestselling author of six previous novels, including The President’s Hat, a Waterstones Book Club pick which won the Prix Landerneau and the Prix Relay des Voyageurs, and was adapted for television, and The Red Notebook which was selected for HRH the Duchess of Cornwall’s Reading Room book club in April 2021. His novels have been translated into more than twenty languages. Antoine was an Author of the Day at London Book Fair 2019. A writer, journalist and antiques collector, he lives in Paris. (Bio/photo credit: Publisher author page)

About the Translators

Jane Aitken is a publisher and translator from the French. Emily Boyce is an editor and in-house translator at Gallic Books.

2 thoughts on “#BookReview The Readers’ Room by Antoine Laurain @BelgraviaB

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