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