In French novelist Blondel's stream-of-consciousness memory trip, ex-lovers engage in a mental quick-fire duel.
Though they were once young and in love, Cécile and Philippe haven't spoken since he humiliated her on a London holiday 27 years ago. When he takes the seat next to her on a morning train from their hometown to Paris, both are swept up in a tsunami of memories and recriminations. This slim novel moves quickly, as though the reader is with Philippe and Cécile on their one-hour-and-34-minute train ride. Alternating between each of their perspectives, Blondel brings to life the insecurities, vulnerabilities, and private thoughts that each has lived with as a result of their four-month affair and its bad ending. Blondel powerfully illustrates the reversal that's happened in the intervening years. Once dashing, confident, and sought-after, Philippe works as a TV salesman. He's lost his good looks and has been abandoned by his wife and children. A former wallflower, plain Cécile has evolved into a stylish, successful entrepreneur who's the best advertisement for her store's organic beauty products. Her daughter is the strong girl she wishes she'd been; her husband is the supportive spouse who offers to quit his job and assist her as her business grows. In showing how they've changed, Philippe and Cécile's story embodies the dramatic impact even the shortest relationships can have on our lives.
A fast, yet deep journey through the characters' experiences of anger, triumph, remorse, and forgiveness, Blondel's novel—his first to be published in the U.S.—reminds us that even long-ago heartbreaks have the power to ignite our most powerful emotions.