Friday, 25 March 2011

Orange 2011: The london train (Hadley)

My fourth Orange read of the longlist season is the first non-debut novel that I've read from the list. And it's by an author whose work I've encountered before: Tessa Hadley is also the author of The master bedroom which I read a couple of years ago. That, like this novel, The London train, was a beautifully observed book.

The London train has quite a complicated plot, and rather than provide a synopsis here on this post, I am simply going to provide you with the text from the inside of the dustwrapper:

The London Train is a novel in two parts, separate but wound together around a single moment, examining in vivid detail two lives stretched between two cities. Paul lives in the Welsh countryside with his wife Elise, and their two young children. The day after his mother dies he learns that his eldest daughter Pia, who was living with his ex-wife in London, has moved out from home and gone missing. He sets out in search of Pia, and when he eventually finds her, living with her lover in a chaotic flat in a tower block in King's Cross, he thinks at first he wants to rescue her. But the search for his daughter begins a period of unrest and indecision for Paul: he is drawn closer to the hub of London, to the excitements of a life lived in jeopardy, to Pia’s fragile new family. Paul’s a pessimist; when a heat wave scorches the capital week after week he fears that they are all ‘sleep-walking to the edge of a great pit, like spoiled trusting children’.

In the opposite direction, Cora is moving back to Cardiff, to the house she has inherited from her parents. She is escaping her marriage, and the constrictions and disappointments of her life in London. At work in the local library, she is interrupted by a telephone call from her sister-in-law and best friend, to say that her husband has disappeared.

Connecting both stories is the London train, and a chance meeting that will have immediate and far-reaching consequences for both Paul and for Cora."

Essentially this is a book of two parts - Paul's story in the first half of the book, and at least the first half of Cora's in the second half of the book are so distinct and separate that rather than completely enjoying reading the book, I spent a lot of time wondering how they would join together; it did feel a little bit like I was just waiting for the arrival of Cora (since this had been given away in the blurb on the inside of the jacket). I did however love the details of the lives of Paul and Cora who were extremely believable characters, not necessarily likeable, but fascinating in their inadequacies as human beings involved in relationships. There was plenty happening in this book, so I would definitely recommend it to those of you who like plot, and it was great when the two stories did finally come together.

Many thanks to Jonathan Cape for sending me this book.


  1. The London Train is one of the longlist reads I'm most looking forward to. My copy just arrived from across the pond, and it might be my next read. I'm glad to hear you enjoyed it1

  2. Sounds interesting. One to look out for.

  3. Not sure if this would be my cup of tea but I do think that's a very beautiful cover.

  4. Wow! You are storming through these Oranges! I agree that this was a beautifully observed book, but the plot didn't grab me - it seemed very quiet in comparison to the strong descriptive sections. I din't finish it though so perhaps I missed out.

  5. I am making good progress!

  6. I really enjoyed The Master Bedroom in 2008's Orange reading, so I was curious about this one too. I found them both very quiet tales (so it's interesting to me that you found it plot-focussed) but both left me thinking about the characters therein for quite some time.

    Odd, really, because they're quite ordinary folk, with ordinary dilemmas and sorrows and pleasures, but I haven't yet shaken Cora and Paul.

    I do wish the publisher hadn't given away the mode of connection on the cover; I think I was more attentive to when-and-where-it-would-happen than I would have been if just left to discover it on my own. It shifted the focus to the event instead of to the more subtle parallels between their stories before/after their plotlines actually do, physically, intersect. Still, I enjoyed it nonetheless!


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