The London Train by Tessa Hadley

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The London Train by Tessa Hadley

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Elaine Dingsdale
Reviewed by Elaine Dingsdale
Summary: Paul and Cora - two vastly different people - meet, embark on an affair, and the novel follows this event, after a synopsis of each characters histories and problems. There is not much in the way of plot - the novel instead focuses on various events and how they affect each character.
Buy? No Borrow? Yes
Pages: 336 Date: January 2011
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978 - 0224090971

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I have to say, overall I was slightly disappointed with this novel. It is very much a work of two parts - which is a good enough approach in itself. Yet when the two parts are so dreadfully uneven, then it is either going to be a resounding success, or potentially a disastrous flop. Fortunately, this managed to avoid the latter conclusion - but only due to the vastly superior quality of part two.

Part one focuses on Paul - a rather self obsessed and aimless character, who is less than honest with his family, using various friends to cover up his movements. He has several daughters, and on learning that one is having problems, goes to visit her in London - and ends up staying with her, for several weeks, leaving both his (second) wife, and the mother of this daughter (first wife), completely in the dark as to what is happening. Initially we feel that he is acting in a protective manner towards his daughter, who is struggling to come to terms with her pregnancy - but in fact his motives are far less altruistic, thereby alienating the reader from his tale. The squalor in which her daughter is living, would appal most parents - yet he seems to take it all in his stride, and attempts to join the hippy-style commune - yet more irritation with this deeply flawed character therefore emerges.

Part two is far superior - in terms of characters and plot (there wasn't really a plot as such in the first part). Here we see the meeting on the train of the title, of Paul and Cora. The latter is a far more appealing character. Struggling with the death of her mother (and subsequent refurbishment of the family home in Cardiff, prior to marketing it), she tos and fros between London and Cardiff, gradually spending more time in the latter location, where she embarks on a not unexpected affair with Paul. Her angst and stresses make for some plot-focused interest to develop. In fact, even the lesser themes, such as her descriptions of her childhood, and refurbishment of the house and the memories it holds for us, begin to show what the author is truly capable of, in terms of combining plot and character. What a dreadful pity that the first part didn't have the same level of interest and focus - in which case it would have been a far more unified and homogenous work. As it stands, it's all just a bit unsatisfactory - and nowhere is this more apparent than in the conclusion. This is rushed, with far too many loose ends, to which a solution isn't even hinted, let alone have the loose ends tied off!

I'm not convinced that this is a particularly good introduction to the work of Hadley. She clearly has talent - the fact I read to the end, as opposed to giving up - would underline this. It certainly won't stop me trying anything else by her. But, think it would have been far more satisfactory, had Cora's story stood alone - as a novella/short story - as opposed to being compared and contrasted with that of Paul. In this way, less irritation and boredom with Paul, and more focus on the heart of the matter would have left the reader potentially more satisfied.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

If this appeals then you might like to try After You'd Gone by Maggie O'Farrell.

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Buy The London Train by Tessa Hadley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The London Train by Tessa Hadley at Amazon currently charges £2.99 for standard delivery for orders under £20, over which delivery is free.
Buy The London Train by Tessa Hadley at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The London Train by Tessa Hadley at

Booklists.jpg The London Train by Tessa Hadley is in the Orange Prize 2011.


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