Two unlikable lost souls have brief encounters in France in this debut novel.
Twenty-year-old Lawrence, stranded in a European nowheresville after a tepid vacation with his girlfriend in Madrid, finds himself taken under the wing of a well-dressed, decisive woman named Élodie. Lawrence is an art history student from New Zealand set to study at the Sorbonne, Élodie is a mystery—a brasher, older Holly Golightly. Both are trying to get back to Paris, but the rail system has mostly shut down, so Élodie hails a cab and takes them to Biarritz. There, with her husband’s credit card, she pays for a new set of clothes for Lawrence, a suite at the Palais, champagne and caviar. She and Lawrence snark at each other through dinner, she ignores him to flirt with an unappealing old friend, she throws herself into the hotel pool, forcing Lawrence to come to her rescue, and, inevitably, beds him. Lawrence’s feelings about Élodie don’t seem to change from the first: He disdains and is obsessed with her. When she calls him after many months and invites him to meet her in Paris, he fantasizes about standing her up in a way that borders on creepy. He goes to see her anyway, of course, and their second day together goes much like the first. There is a hint that they are softening toward each other, but to what end? Any change in either character—or their circumstances—is negligible. Though clearly trying to ape Paris’ famous misogynist heroes, Hampson offers none of the marrow-sucking vigor of Hemingway or the dizzying self-destructiveness of Miller. He also lacks the ability of his more successful navel-gazing contemporaries to add compelling emotional texture to youthful ennui.
A juvenile novel mired in old tropes.