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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The 6:41 to Paris

Jean-Philippe Blondel

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To purchase The 6:41 to Paris

Title: The 6:41 to Paris
Author: Jean-Philippe Blondel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 153 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The 6:41 to Paris - US
The 6:41 to Paris - UK
The 6:41 to Paris - Canada
06h41 - Canada
The 6:41 to Paris - India
06h41 - France
6 Uhr 41 - Deutschland
6.41 - Italia
El tren de las 6.41 - España
  • French title: 06h41
  • Translated by Alison Anderson

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Our Assessment:

B : decent set-up, decently played out

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The NY Times Book Rev. . 6/12/2015 Alan Riding
Publishers Weekly . 21/9/2015 .

  From the Reviews:
  • "Jean-Philippe Blondel adds a strong plot and a touching portrayal of how any of us might feel when unexpectedly confronted by the detritus of young love." - Alan Riding, The New York Times Book Review

  • "Their overlapping narratives, unfolding over the course of their commute, lend insights into their former selves and the feelings of inadequacy and ambivalence that are perhaps endemic to middle age. Translator Anderson does an exceptional job of capturing Cécile’s and Philippe’s voices" - Publishers Weekly

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Save in the book's closing pages, the chapters in The 6:41 to Paris alternate perspectives between two initially unidentified characters. Cécile is taking the early train back to Paris on a Monday morning after suffering through a weekend with her aging parents; the man who sits down next to her in the crowded train is Philippe, a man she went out with for a few months when they were twenty, over a quarter of century earlier. The two recognize but don't acknowledge each other; for most of the hour-and-a-half trip they more or less pretend to ignore each other -- but all the while their thoughts are consumed by the memories and reflections triggered by this happenstance meeting.
       Their parting years earlier was clearly not a happy one. Readers soon learn that they took a trip to London together and that it did not go well -- "Never had I felt like such a burden. Or so humiliated", Cécile eventually reveals, and whatever it was, it was so unpleasant that its spoiled London for her forever. Part of the tension Blondel stirs up in the novel comes from the mystery surrounding what the hell exactly happened, which the author of course saves for late in the book; disappointingly, that denouement then can't quite live up to all this build-up, which is partially also the fault of how Blondel finally presents it.
       But all the to do about what-happened-in-London twenty-seven years earlier is also a bit of a smokescreen. The 6:41 to Paris is a characters-study, a snapshot of who these characters are, meaning who they have become -- and how they got here. And their brief past has something to do with that (though, again, Blondel doesn't manage that quite as convincingly as the premise seems to demand).
       Cécile has, fairly recently, made a leap to successful businesswoman, even as her family seems to have begun to slowly drift apart. She dutifully visits her old but not much-loved parents, but can't get her husband or teenage daughter to come along; the daughter is quickly growing independent, the husband apparently resigning himself to being the less successful (and, so the implication, less important) spouse. Philippe has been much less successful and hasn't aged nearly as well; his own marriage flamed out a decade earlier, and his kids are now also distancing themselves even more from him as they near adulthood. (Family relationships across generations are truly terrible across the board in this novel.)
       A third character from the past also hovers in the background, Mathieu Coché, Philippe's best friend back in the day, and the reason he is traveling to Paris, where he will visit Mathieu. In both their recollections and thoughts he comes to mind several times -- understandably, for Philippe, since he's on his way to see his friend -- and this unseen character, who lucked into an extraordinarily successful career (but has now terminally lucked out) is the most intriguing almost-presence in the story, a welcome (if a bit heavy-handed) additional layer and counterweight to all the relationship issues Cécile and Philippe are facing.
       Much of the novel is nicely, deeply in the heads of its two main characters, presenting the thoughts running through them -- and the back and forth as each is aware of the other but tries not to let on makes for some decent and amusing tension. Oddly, Blondel pulls back and away in the novel's closing pages, suddenly having an omniscient narrator describe the quick final back and forth as Cécile and Philippe acknowledge each other and their past as their journey comes to an end and they must decide what words to say and what actions to take, split-second last-minute -- but potentially life-changing ? -- decisions; it's a jarring shift in perspectives -- and feels a bit unfair: Blondel has let us so deep into their minds and then shuts the door to what they're thinking just when it gets interesting.
       The 6:41 to Paris is a decent characters-study but it's a pretty cold book, too, leaving a somewhat sour taste. Neither of the characters arouses much (or, quite honestly, any) sympathy -- it's hard to care what happened to them, or what their futures hold -- nor does Blondel manage to suggest they or their lives are in any way particularly interesting (his failing: any life can be presented as in some way interesting Too much of the book is about presentation, that clever back and forth, that alternating glimpse into their minds -- a fine trick that Blondel pulls off well enough, but behind which there isn't nearly enough substance.

- M.A.Orthofer, 1 November 2015

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The 6:41 to Paris: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Jean-Philippe Blondel was born 1964.

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