Book Review: The Train to Paris, by Sebastian Hampson

cv_the_train_to_parisAvailable now at bookstores nationwide. 

A young New Zealand man, studying art history at Paris’s Sorbonne. A moneyed Parisian woman at something of a loose end. These are the main protagonists in Sebastian Hampson’s first novel, The Train to Paris.

20 year old Lawrence Williams has had a fairly sheltered upbringing; he is naïve and, let’s be honest, decidedly callow. He thinks he’s much more worldly and knowledgeable than he is. Elodie Lavelle is rich, bored and of a certain age. They meet at a train station at the Spanish border as both are trying to return to Paris. Elodie takes Lawrence on an adventure that will start him on the journey to growing up.

Hampson has a flair for describing locations – while reading I found myself transported to sultry, luxurious Biarritz and the two sides of Paris that Lawrence and Elodie exist in. Elodie’s Paris is particularly evocative in all its shallow, fragile brilliance.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t relate to either of the main characters. Lawrence is too prissy, too uptight, for me to like or care about much. He’s too much of a passenger in his own life, with his going-nowhere relationship with a girl back home and his mooching flatmate. He made me feel very impatient. Elodie is horrible. Clearly deeply unhappy despite her privileged lifestyle, her dialogue with Lawrence is bossy, spiky and downright rude. She may be beautiful and possessed of a certain sort of surface attractiveness that Lawrence is drawn to, but her behaviour would put a smarter man right off. Her offhand, snide treatment of Lawrence is frequently callous.

The main plot’s a cougar-on-the-prowl, Mrs Robinson kind of set-up. Hampson does his best to add more sophistication to the story, but it is at heart a coming-of-age story where the older woman teaches the younger man a lesson or three. Elodie may learn something from Lawrence, but as the story is entirely from his point of view, it’s hard to be sure. The settings are beautifully drawn but for me the characters didn’t live up to the stage that Hampson created for them.

Reviewed by Rachel Moore

The Train to Paris
by Sebastian Hampson
Published by Text
ISBN 9781922147790

Free events, with Writers Week guests popping up all over Wellington

Book fans will be spoilt for choice withNZF_WritersWeek_front free events this Writers Week, including the 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture.

Celebrated author and illustrator Gavin Bishop will deliver a literary “state of the nation” at the New Zealand Society of Authors 2014 Janet Frame Memorial Lecture (6.15pm, 10 March, City Gallery) as part of 2014 Writers Week. This annual lecture is free, and will discuss the current state of literature and writing in New Zealand. For over 30 years, the lives of children and grown-up children have been shaped by the books of Gavin Bishop. Introduced by Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown, Bishop’s lecture will focus on the value, standing and role of illustration in children’s literature.

As a picture book author and artist, Gavin Bishop has published more than 40 books and won numerous awards, including the Margaret Mahy Medal for Services to Children’s Literature in 2000. He has also written for television and the libretti for two children’s ballets for the Royal New Zealand Ballet.

Another free event, First Published (6.15pm, 11 March, Meow Café), will feature four exciting new voices on the local literary scene in a session chaired by New Zealand Post Book Award winner Steve Braunias. Fall in love together with the protagonist of Sebastian Hampson’s novel The Train to Paris; marvel at the influence of that extraordinary instrument, the theremin, in Tracy Farr’s fictional biography The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt; and relish the poetry and insights of Irish-born Caoilinn Hughes and recent Michael King Writers’ Centre resident Alice Miller

Local visual art fans and aficionados can enjoy a special screening of The Man in the Hat (7.30pm, 11 March, Film Archive, koha), the documentary portrait of influential Wellington art dealer Peter McLeavey, directed by Luit Beiringa. The film explores McLeavey’s early life and the more than 500 exhibitions he went on to curate from his history-making Cuba Street gallery. Beiringa will introduce the screening and be available afterwards to talk about this extraordinarily influential character.

Other free events during Writers Week, 7-12 March 2014, include:

  • The launch of Where the Rēkohu Bone Sings by Tina Makereti (Random House), 6pm, 6 March, Unity Books
  • Big Ideas for Breakfast: half an hour of lively discussion between Writers Week guests, from 7.45am, 10-12 March, Westpac Festival Club, St James Theatre
  • Many events for Collected Stories of the Odd and Marvellous edited by Adrienne Jansen (Te Papa Press) with stories and workshops for children inspired by weird and wonderful museum objects, 8-9 March, Te Papa
  • A Victoria University Press party and book launch for Gathering Evidence by Caoilinn Hughes and Incomplete Works by Dylan Horrocks, 7.30pm, 8 March, Exchange Atrium
  • A Gecko Press party for visiting authors and book launch for Dappled Annie and the Tigrish by Mary McCallum, 6pm, 9 March, Westpac Festival Hub, St James Theatre
  • The book launch for The Train to Paris by Sebastian Hampson (Text Publishing), 6.15pm, 10 March,The Library Bar

For more details about these events and more visit the New Zealand Festival website:\

Writers Week is supported by Asia New Zealand, Australia Council for the Arts, Canada Council for the Arts, Creative New Zealand, Flemish Literature Fund, Goethe-Institut, Institut Ramon Llull, Lion Foundation, Museum Art Hotel, National Library of New Zealand, New Zealand Book Council, New Zealand Listener, Royal Society of New Zealand, Swedish Arts Council, Unity Books and Victoria University of Wellington.