On Jean-Philippe Blondel’s ‘The 6:41 to Paris’

1939931266.01.LZZZZZZZNathaniel Popkin at The Millions:

Blondel’s wink begs the reader to recall Graham Greene’s 1951 The End of the Affair, which opens ponderously, “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.” Green’s book has the quality of a long, high-walled canal; you can’t see side to side, only front to back, future to past. As the book opens, the narrator is Maurice Bendrix; as in The 6:41 to Paris, the first person voice will switch between Maurice and his former lover Sarah Miles.

Like Greene himself, the character Maurice is a novelist of renowned “technical ability.” The closeness between Greene and his protagonist allows him likewise to signal the reader: this story is a construct meant to heighten feeling. “It is convenient, it is correct according to the rules of my craft to begin just there,” winks Greene, speaking for himself and for Maurice, still in the opening paragraph. The novelist is talking about constructing the story as he’s writing it.

Blondel places his protagonists next to each other on the train. Greene places his on either side of Clapham Common, in London. Maurice gazes out his window when he spots Sarah’s husband Henry tromping across the common through slashing rain. This is the arbitrary moment. But why should he go out to speak to him? Two years earlier, Sarah had left Maurice without explanation. Hatred for her and for Henry won’t relent.

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