Title: The 6:41 to Paris
Author: Jean-Phillipe Blondel
Translated by: Alison Anderson
Author’s Country of Birth: France
Page Numbers: 170 pages
Publish Year: 2013
What is It About?
Imagine being trapped in a bustling train compartment on your back home…and the person sitting next to you is someone whom you hate the most. The ride will last for over an hour, and it has been about 30 years since you have last seen this person, but the scab in your heart is still there. What would you do?
47-year-old Cecil is a successful French businesswoman who’s at the growing peak of her career, along with bigger plans set in stone for her. One day, on her way back from visiting her aging parents, Cecil decides to take the 6:41 am train back home to Paris. During this train ride, an ex-flame, Phillips Leduc, ends up sitting next to her. During the next hour and a half, they both begin to reminisce the memories of their short-lived romantic relationship, which was filled with hate, lust, and regrets.
Though I did read mixed reviews (with no spoilers) online, it didn’t stop me from getting my hands on the book and reading it myself. I’m not one to sway from a path once I have my sight on it anymore–unless one can provide substantial evidence why I should and the reasons should be full of legitimate negative consequences…like horrible plot surprises. But 47-year-old Cecil didn’t come face to face with a “bad plot surprise.” Instead, though she did end up having her ex-boyfriend, Phillipe, sitting next to her, she is forced to deal with the hurt and humiliation she herself tried to run away from in the past 30 years. For some people in the real world, this could be too much, depending on how bad of a relationship break-up it was. For me, well, this was courage.
How to Describe the Overall Book?
Curiosity was strong within this one for I could hardly put the book down at all during my 2 days of reading through it! Each chapter is told from Cecil or Phillipe’s point of view as they each either make efforts to ease the awkwardness, debate whether or not to run away, or remember why their past actions have led up to this moment, 30 years later after their break-up. Though I did have trouble with figuring out who was telling the story at first–it didn’t take me long to see the pattern and for the confusion to stop. It was pretty frustrating; however, I loved how each chapter was leading up to the ultimate plot question: What happened?
And then, there was another question: What is going to happen?
I have never wanted to thank a translator so, so much for translating a book because–well, I had never read a translated novel before–I could clearly hear Blondel’s voice from word to word. His use of language was still beautiful, and thanks to Anderson’s hard work, they all still rang true to the original. Blondel’s use of switching character’s perspectives and first-person narrative was very effective and efficient in letting the reader believe that they are there in the train compartment.
Having a perspective being told in first-person narrative further helps put the reader in Cecil’s position and also feel empathy for the character. When the perspective is switched to Phillipe, you too feel empathy for him as well and see into the changing depths of his maturity over the past 30 years while he reflects back on his naive bachelorhood days. In the end, I cannot help but feel like a mutual friend, who is listening to both Cecil and Phillipe on their love story. One is told both sides of the story and may have come up with a solution that can solve the problem, but it is up for the former couple to take the first steps.
What’s My Favorite Part?
My favorite aspect of “The 6:41 to Paris” has to be the character development of both Cecil and Phillipe. In the beginning of the novel, it seems like the two are overwhelmed with hate or fear, which gradually gives away to acceptance and then, hope. They have been dragging around this heavy burden for many years and never got around to resolve or confront their problems with each other. They weren’t good at communicating then, and even now, in the train compartment, the reader can see that they are still struggling with that same issue. Fear has them in its grip, and they need to build up the courage to let it out.
What’s My Least Favorite Part?
However, I barely felt the pain from the break-up. While the overall story plot was well thought out, I was a tad disappointed that Blondel didn’t go in depth about both Cecil and Phillipe’s emotional sides. Much of it went into anger and humiliation or guilt and regrets–but I thought that sadness could have been incorporated. It seemed to me that Blondel just simply skimmed through and dived right into anger and resentment or embarrassment and shame.
A Word of Advice…
Personally though, I don’t recommend this book to those who are seeking action–as the main characters are both stuck in a tightly packed train compartment and are forced to think about everything that’s happened in the past 30 years. With me, this was no problem, because I tend to find stories revolving around mental processes and flashbacks fascinating! While some people may say that they would’ve acted faster than Cecil and Phillipe and started up the conversation sooner, the rest of us probably wouldn’t and would have taken our time to think things through like they did. People are complex, and well…reactions from person to person will often have multiple outcomes: angry shouting, crying, silence, and so on forth.
Nevertheless, I found the story to be quite captivating. I would recommend this book to anyone who is currently recovering from unstable relationships, are in the midst of either forgiving, or trying to move on with their life. Blondel’s “The 6:41 to Paris” is indeed a tale of bittersweet karma and how the times of youth can follow you far into your later life. It is a reminder to us all that life is only what you make of the choices given to you and how you treat others.