This is a book of train journeys that are significant for not really ever arriving as far as the main character is concerned. They are an adventure yet also an escape, from what and to where is never clear. While it tackles some difficult topics head on, it is also very funny. It is eloquent on feelings that many might have but few admit to, let alone take life changing action. Elizabeth is a fascinating character, and remains the strongest in a book that eventually introduces several memorable and surprising people. Beginning in London, this is a book which reveals a fascinating insight into the Suffolk countryside, as well as the realities of British trains. Tackling themes such as loneliness and the rules that govern lives, this is a book of great contemporary relevance and puts a sometimes comic twist on serious ideas. I greatly enjoyed its characterisation and pace, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this lovely book.
The book opens at Harlow Town railway station. The announcer intones a warning of delay “This is due to a passenger on the line at Harlow Town”, a coded indication of a suicide in Elizabeth’s opinion. Managing not to argue with a singular woman in the cafe as other passengers gawp, she takes her coffee, shocked that the fatality is labelled an “inconvenience”. Daniel Cotter, the driver, realises that he has killed a human being, and is deeply traumatised. Elizabeth travels on to Cambridge, encountering in the cafe on the station a man who seems determined to discover why she is there, intent on taking a particular train, carrying no luggage to speak of, quietly determined. Then a memorable young woman arrives, loud, disruptive, encumbered with a suitcase obviously overstuffed with fashionable shoes and clothes. She breaks into Elizabeth’s thoughts, full of her own stories and phrases, most memorably “The world is my lobster!”. She wants to go to Brighton explore on her own, discover the world, change everything for two weeks. Elizabeth is pressed into explaining her story, her reason why “The seventh train” is important, even if she is not sure herself at certain points. She has her stories, and it transpires that she is not alone in making revelations. The train journey is the thing, but is the destination, the end, always important?
I found much to enjoy in this novel, developed from a play, which explains the realistic dialogue and deep feelings expressed here. There are surprises, but set in a context where they fit and make sense. The facts, the trains, do hold together, as I have some knowledge of one of the destinations mentioned in some detail. There are rules, there is a framework, an ultimately there is hope. This is a deceptively important book, with an unerring sense of purpose, even if at times the whole premise seems unfocused. It examines various experiences from a safe place, and demonstrates a great understanding of what makes the quiet, the anonymous passenger on a train may be thinking, why they do what they do. Carreira is a watcher of people who has committed her imaginings to a novel which has a quiet power, well expressed, and which has the capacity to make the reader think, while being entertained. I recommend it as an excellent read for all those who wonder about other people, and indeed their own motivations, when travelling on trains.
I have of course recommended this book to Northernvicar! He will no doubt give his verdict on at least the train information ( but the pieces I have read him have met with his approval!)