A heartfelt masterpiece about the joys of travel, reading, and companionship.
In rural Canada, dotted along the coast of a vast mauve river, live villagers of different stripes: a recently divorced hydroplane pilot, a factory-worker who closely resembles her fisherman husband, a probing motorcyclist with a pet St. Bernard, a pair of beautiful blonde joggers, and other curious characters.
For all their differences, each is brought together by a soft-spoken man, referred to only as “the Driver,” who travels up and down the coast each season, delivering books to areas not served by libraries and listening closely to the villager’s tales and to their woes.
This summer tour is bound to be different than all the rest. The Driver has made friends with a traveling band of musicians, jugglers, artists, and acrobats who decide to come along for a ride that the Driver has privately decided will be his last.
Jacques Poulin’s compassionate prose delves into the hidden pains of aging and loss without losing sight of the tremendous joy that can be found in making the world a little more livable for other people.
Canadian novelist Poulin (Mister Blue) continues his oeuvre of quiet, unimposing fiction with this delicate tale of a Quebec City bookmobile owner whose solitary life is upended after he meets an alluring woman. Known only as "the Driver," the eccentric protagonist surrounds himself with books and rejected manuscripts donated by their authors, and grimly anticipates the encroaching decline of his later years, which he intends to circumvent through suicide. While investigating the sounds of a marching band in his neighborhood, he meets Marie, the lovely organizer of a troupe of traveling artists. Like him, she's gray-haired and reserved, and she's beautiful, but she's involved with fellow troupe member Slim. Regardless, Marie and the Driver's relationship deepens, affording Poulin plenty of opportunities to depict Quebec landmarks in lush detail as the couple rides together along the bookmobile routes, during which a booksmith named Jack pops in to share his literary observations. Narrated in ponderous, poetic prose, the brief text successfully harnesses a range of themes, made potent by the melancholy mix of the Driver's fear of aging and the lure of romance. Poulin once again shows his knack for grace and nuance.