on Tour January 25-29 with
The 6:41 to Paris
Release date: December 1, 2015
at New Vessel Press
Website | Goodreads
Cecile, a stylish 47-year-old, has spent the weekend visiting her parents in a provincial town southeast of Paris. By early Monday morning, she’s exhausted. These trips back home are always stressful and she settles into a train compartment with an empty seat beside her. But it’s soon occupied by a man she instantly recognizes: Philippe Leduc, with whom she had a passionate affair that ended in her brutal humiliation 30 years ago. In the fraught hour and a half that ensues, their express train hurtles towards the French capital. Cécile and Philippe undertake their own face to face journey—In silence? What could they possibly say to one another?—with the reader gaining entrée to the most private of thoughts. This is a brilliant psychological thriller, a high-wire act of emotions on rails, about past romance, with all its pain and promise.
I’d heard many good things about this book, and I was eager to read it. At first, the switch in point of view confused me, before I realized that we get both Cecile and Philippe’s point of view (though they are not marked). Once I sorted that out, the book flowed smoothly, and I found it to be one I couldn’t put down.
The plot is quite reflective, as memories for both characters are triggered by the appearance of the other. Philippe is quite unhappy in life, at where he has ended up, and how he looks now (as compared to when he was a teenager). Cecile, on the other hand, is at the top of her game, though she too is not entirely satisfied with life. The book progresses with flashbacks for both characters, giving the reader their history, both together and apart, and you begin to feel like you know them, at least in this sliver of time.
I tended to sympathize more with Cecile, as she was wronged by Philippe thirty years ago, but I sympathize with both of them because neither have really gotten over what happened. The book also made me think of my own missteps as a teenager, and how everyone, when growing up, makes mistakes, and hurts others.
This book is thought-provoking, reflective, and somewhat nostalgic, and if you’re in that kind of mood, it’d be perfect.
No, I had something to do with it, too.
I shouldn’t be disingenuous. I wasn’t the type of girl who had men turning around as I walked by. And I didn’t do anything to encourage them. I preferred wearing baggy clothes and shapeless sweatshirts; guys must’ve thought I spent my weekends sprawled in front of the television. And so they were often pleasantly surprised when I took my clothes off. And discovered that I actually had a figure.
No, that’s not it, either. I’ve never thought of myself as shy. It was just I didn’t feel like struggling for hours to impose my taste or my point of view, to defend a particular film or rock band or politician. It all seemed useless. I would look at them, all those strutting peacocks, puffing out their chests and crowing louder than anyone. And sometimes there in the barnyard a few hens would cackle as they pecked around the cocks, and the peahens would spread their feathers, because their song was so horrible; and then there were the graylag geese. Pasionarias who took every subject to heart, and they could easily go up an octave to stand up to the kings of the farm, another way of getting attention, of displaying their charms. And it worked. Men like it when you stand up to them. It arouses their hunting instinct. I wasn’t that kind.
I was worse.
I was one of those girls who are said to have a blank gaze, simply because behind our expressionless masks we hide our true contempt for all the jousting, for all those tinsel princesses and papier-mâché knights in shining armor. And for ourselves, above all. My self-contempt was equal to my disdain for them. A pretty picture.
But it didn’t show, at all.
I know what people said about me in those days. She’s nice. She’s easygoing. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Quiet. Reserved. A little empty, maybe. Having said that, you can always count on her.
And in bed, did any of that cross his mind, Philippe Leduc? No. He would only have been thinking about his erection, which he had trouble maintaining. He must have been conjuring images of girls who were flashier than me—famous actresses, rocker chicks in leather pants—and his only aim would have been to stay hard, as long as possible. And to what end? Not for my pleasure, surely, he couldn’t have cared less. Not even for his own. Just out of pride. So he could say, “Sure, I scored.”
Don’t you think we might have missed something then, Philippe?
Because our bodies were a good fit; because there were times you managed to forget your fear, your obsession with performance, because our skin would touch and the tenderness that came from that caress surprised both of us. We didn’t know that life is long, that our alliances would change, and that, anyway, over time we’d lose that urge to boast. We didn’t know we might have been a good match, one of those couples who understand each other intimately, who exchange knowing glances when other people go on and on.
Do you at least remember what it was like afterward?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
was born in 1964 in Troyes, France
where he lives as an author and English teacher.
His novel The 6:41 to Paris
has been a bestseller in both France and Germany.
ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR
Alison Anderson is a novelist and translator of literature from French. Among the authors she has translated are JMG Le Clézio, Christian Bobin, Muriel Barbery and Amélie Nothomb. She has lived in Northern California and currently lives in a village in Switzerland.
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