Though I often claim to seek out the ‘latest and greatest in literature,’ I must admit that I source many of my own recommendations from the “Noteworthy Fiction” shelves of the bookstore in addition to critical acclaim and word-of-mouth. Today, however, is different—and Thursday (my posting schedule is a bit off this week due to an unexpectedly hectic Monday) will be, too. That’s because last week, I wandered into Barnes & Noble without an agenda, and exited with two completely random books. I was perusing the Fiction aisle and happened upon a thin volume with a green cover. Excited at the prospect of actually being able to complete a book in time for a Monday post (and I actually did complete the book in time—on Saturday, no less—just not the actual post), I made the snap decision to purchase it. The book, called The 6:41 to Paris, is a French book by Jean-Philippe Blondel, translated to English by Alison Anderson. It’s around 130 pages, and I heartily recommend it to anyone looking for a quick and lighthearted—but surprisingly insightful—way to brighten their morning commute.
The 6:41 to Paris follows Cecile, forty-something CEO of an organic skincare company, who takes an early Monday morning train back to the city after spending the weekend with her aging parents. As the train begins pulling away from the station, she is thrilled to discover that the seat next to her appears to remain unoccupied—until, moments, she hears “is this seat taken?” from the absolute last person she ever expected—or wanted—to hear from again. *Cue suspenseful music*
The man who sits down next to her is none other than Philippe; the first—and, due to the trauma she experienced, only—man to ever break her heart. Lest you roll your eyes and assume this is some sort of sappy tale about love and loss, bear in mind that it’s a French novel, so instead of a book peppered with inspirational quotes about how Cecile ultimately became a better person because of the experience, it’s a retelling of their love affair and it’s explosive end, replete with sex, intrigue, cruelty, and wry humor.
Blondel’s prose, especially when narrating the thoughts of Cecile and Phillippe, also provide the reader with insight into the French philosophy on life—in fact, one of Cecile’s thoughts, demonstrative of the French sense of superiority that fascinates and reviles the rest of the world in equal measure:
“No matter the age, gender, history, or social position of the people I met, I would immediately treat them as equals. Human beings with the same genetic heritages vulnerable to viruses, prone to sudden illness during a romantic weekend in Amsterdam, capable of humiliating a girl by bringing another one up to the room, and probably concealing a secret life, full of inadmissible vices, moments of distress, grimaces in the mirror, and disgust”
Si impitoyable –à la facon Française.
Coming up on Thursday, another book translated by Alison Anderson…and it’s a good one.