The level crossing 515, in the forest of Retz, has neither fence nor traffic light. One night, Manon Gerberoy drives to the railway line not knowing that a train is approaching at the speed of 160 km per hour. The crash is unavoidable. The car is crushed and its three passengers die: Manon, 32, her daughter Émilie, 7, et Manon’s father, 56.
A former pointsman, Guillaume has changed jobs to satisfy his girl friend, Alice, fed up with the frequency of his nightshifts. He has been driving local trains for a few weeks. He feels responsible for the crash, and his anguish splits his couple further. Alone and angst ridden, Guillaume meets Cyrille, a childhood friend of Manon, from whom he seeks reassurance that he is innocent of her death.
This first novel is uncompromising and cruel in its depiction of the dissolution of a couple, of frustration and weariness replacing desire. Philippe Routier’s characters have had hard lives. Few have chosen the existence that ties them to this dull, desolated region of the Picardie. The ‘aristocrats of the railways’ that train drivers once were have lost their prestige even if they still appear in the dreams of little boys.
Philippe Routier was born in Germany in 1958. He has been living in Paris since 1974, trying his hand at a series of jobs at the national railway company, the SNCF, which he joined in 1983. He writes poetry, short stories and plays. Réseau nord was broadcasted on France Culture in 1989. He is now working in the communication department of the SNCF.