“Chunnel Vision” by Jeffrey Archer Summary & Explanation

Chunnel Vision Jeffrey Archer Summary Explanation
“Chunnel Vision” Summary

“Chunnel Vision” is a short story by Jeffrey Archer that appeared in his collection Twelve Red Herrings. It’s about two writers who get together for supper. The visitor has a successful new novel out and his host is excited about a plot for a novel of his own. Complicating the situation is the presence of the host’s girlfriend, who’s preparing to leave after their relationship has soured. Questions might arise around exactly what transpires in the story, so we’ll look at this after this summary of “Chunnel Vision”.

“Chunnel Vision” Summary

When the narrator is in New York a few times a year, he always gets together with his writer friend Duncan. The narrator writes novels and short stories while Duncan writes screenplays. He calls Duncan from his hotel and gets invited over for dinner the next evening. Duncan always has a different girlfriend and they’ll either be joined by Christabel (their relationship is ending) or Karen (his new infatuation).

Duncan is going to try writing a novel and he’s excited about a plot he’s come up with, that he wants to run by the narrator. He wraps up a copy of his latest novel as a gift and goes to Duncan’s apartment. He hears yelling from inside and knows Christabel is still here. Duncan let’s him in.

Christabel is very beautiful. She’s been packing all afternoon and her suitcases are ready. She has read the narrator’s new novel and congratulates him on its success. Duncan has recently returned from Bosnia and hasn’t been able to read it yet. The narrator places his book on the hall table for later.

As they leave for the restaurant, Christabel invites herself and joins them. They walk to a fancy French restaurant and the narrator hopes his friend’s inconsistent income is up for it. They talk about Duncan’s time in Bosnia, where he exposed a black market operation run by UN soldiers. Christabel lags behind and seems lost in thought.

They arrive at the restaurant and are seated. It’s obviously very expensive and the narrator feels guilty over how much Duncan will have to pay. There are no prices on the menu, so the narrator tries to guess at the least expensive items. Christabel is already on her second glass of champagne. The waiter runs through a long list of fancy dishes and everyone orders.

Christabel offers to select the wine so Duncan can get into his novel idea. It’s based on a current event, the upcoming opening of an undersea train tunnel being built between Britain and France. The narrative will follow four groups—an American family, a young English couple, a Greek millionaire and his French wife, and three students.

Their various backstories will be established and then we’ll begin to realize the students may have known each other before. Soon after, he’ll reveal the students are terrorists intent on hijacking the train. The train has to make an unexpected stop about halfway but it turns out to be a false alarm. The terrorists use the commotion to get closer to the driver’s cabin and then gain control, stopping the train on the French side of the tracks.

Meanwhile, the narrator has felt various pangs of conscience and wanted to tell Duncan something but has always lost his courage. Christabel has been drinking wine constantly and is eating quickly as well. No doubt the cost will be enormous. He notices the wine is wonderful, even though he doesn’t usually drink white wine. The narrator and Duncan both refuse dessert but Christabel samples many things. She smiles at the narrator occasionally while Duncan tells his story.

Duncan continues his story. Most of the passengers flee the train but a few with strong personal motivations—the American man, Greek millionaire and French wife, and young married man—stay aboard.

A waiter prepares crêpe suzette tableside and places it in front of Christabel. Duncan feels like he’s passed the point of no return and it’s too late to say anything to Duncan now. They all order coffee and Christabel is also interested in some extras.

The terrorists want to deal with the British authorities but are thrown when they find they’ve passed into French jurisdiction. Christabel orders a bottle of port that the narrator recognizes as exquisite.

The terrorists plan to blow up the train to bring attention to their cause while the remaining passengers, led by the American (for the book’s financial considerations), plan a counter-offensive.

Duncan asks for the bill and Christabel rises unsteadily to leave. She’ll be out of the apartment before Duncan gets home. She compliments the narrator again on his new novel and praises the originality of the idea. He feels guilty as he thanks her and says goodbye.

Duncan isn’t sorry to see Christabel go. She’s beautiful but lacking in imagination. The maître d’ presents the bill in a leather folder. Duncan hasn’t settled on an ending yet and wants suggestions. He looks at the bill and is stunned by what he sees.

A woman from a nearby table walks toward them. She loudly compliments the narrator on his new novel, drawing the attention of those around. He thanks her curtly, hoping this won’t add to his discomfort. She particularly loved the clever ending—the way he got the American family out of the tunnel alive.

(End of “Chunnel Vision” Summary)

“Chunnel Vison” Explanation

What’s clear about the ending of “Chunnel Vision” is that the narrator’s new novel has a similar plot to the one Duncan has come up with.

Along the way, our attention is directed to Christabel’s expensive feasting and drinking, making us think this is what is troubling the narrator. This concern was established early in the story when he tells us Duncan’s financial situation varies wildly and he hopes he’s secured a good advance on his novel. This adds to the ending’s effect—if he has gotten an advance on this novel, the idea is now worthless and Christabel has just wasted a huge amount of his money.

What’s not so clear is exactly how this happened. Did Christabel have something to do with the plagiarized idea? There are hints at this. We’re told she read the narrator’s new novel. It’s possible she mentioned the tunnel to Duncan, starting him on his idea. She could have suggested a few major corresponding plot elements, like the American family. If she did in fact set him up like this, it would play off of Duncan’s comment about her having no imagination. Admittedly, the argument for Christabel having strongly influenced Duncan’s idea doesn’t sound very strong.

This leaves the interpretation that Duncan’s parallel idea was pure coincidence. This is certainly possible. Writers come up with similar premises and plots all the time. The “chunnel” is getting lots of news coverage, so it’s out there for anyone to use as a starting point. Duncan was unclear on how he was going to handle certain parts of the story and didn’t have an ending yet, which would be very important to get right. We also don’t know how closely the story he outlined matched the narrator’s story; we’re only told they had similar premises and both had an American family.

I think a coincidental interpretation makes more sense. Remember, this story appeared in the collection Twelve Red Herrings. The red herring in this story is the huge bill Christabel is running up. This is how she’s “sticking it” to Duncan as they break up. That’s not the main thing the narrator is uncomfortable about, it’s the worthlessness of Duncan’s idea. There’s no need for Christabel to exact any greater revenge on Duncan, as we’re not told she was treated badly.

I think the story is best enjoyed just by accepting that this coincidence occurred.

I hope this summary of “Chunnel Vision” and a look at an explanation has been helpful.