Tuesday, May 17, 2011

London Train

Tessa Hadley keeps proving herself as the kind of writer whose books get better and better. London Train is her fifth novel and I have to say it was wonderful.It was on the long list for the 2011  Orange Prize. Most of the novel is divided into the story of two separate characters but don't think short stories. Think more like Carol Shields  Republic of Love.

Story one is about Paul. He lives a thoughtful life in Cardiff with wife #2 and children #'s 2 and 3. He's a poet and a father and an about to be midlife crisis man. His eldest daughter, Pia, #1, is the one whose life he's a part timer in. She lives with her Mother. Paul's life of comfort and untested intellectual liberality is put to the point when Pia disappears and is found pregnant, living in squalor in London with her illegal boyfriend.

Story two is about Clara. She is seeking peace. Clara has spent 25 years working hard teaching other people's children. Her parents have recently passed away and her marriage is in trouble. Clara's much older husband is facing disciplinary actions at work. Like Paul, Clara is a relatively untried liberal intellectual whose life is suddenly in a crisis. Clara moves from the anxiety of her London life to take a job as a librarian in Cardiff.

When Hadley takes these strangers on a train and adds a touch of Brief Encounter you have London Train. In fact this novel really is a contemporary retelling of Brief Encounter. It has the same domestic responsibilities and virtues verses romance and freedom theme. Oh and trains too. In Hadley's version we learn much more about the lives of the characters than we do in Brief Encounter. Like Coward's Laura and Alec, Paul and Clara have reached middle age relatively unscathed and with dreams of hearth and home if not completely intact then at least still glimmering. Unlike Laura and Alec, Hadley's characters are not quietly noble, restrained, 'proper' people. Paul and Clara have left their self absorbed little fingerprints all over their messy lives.

After five very enjoyable novels Tessa Hadley is an old hand at making troubled relationships fresh and entertaining. She stirs up London Train a bit more by playing fast and loose with chronological order. Hadley has made London Train an observationally acute examination of choices and a terrific read. Time to wait for novel #6.

 How about the covers? Above is the U.S. cover which I find very attractive, but after reading London Train I fail to see the connection between that cover and the novel. This cover suggests a story about a much younger and more inexperienced woman than Clare is.

What about the U.K. cover?
I love it. The layout, the graphic look and the palette all work. I think it's beautiful and a perfect match for the book.

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