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The London Train Paperback – May 24, 2011

3.6 out of 5 stars 38 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Hadley's fourth novel (after The Master Bedroom) is at once a melancholy and delightful story about Paul, a poet and father of three going through a midlife crisis in a small town outside of Cardiff, Wales, and Cora, a woman from his past whose impact on his life is minimal, and yet, for the reader, pivotal. What begins as an argument with a neighbor spirals into a domestic meltdown that sends Paul storming out and traveling to London to find Pia, his daughter from a former marriage, who, as it turns out, is pregnant, has dropped out of school, and is living in an illegal flat with her boyfriend. Paul, unsure how he should act, teeters back and forth from father figure to thrilled participant in her chaotic existence. Cora, on the other hand, has taken refuge from London in her recently deceased parents' house in Cardiff after separating from her husband and now enjoys the simplicity and the quiet of the country. Her narrative fleshes out the connection she has to Paul and reveals him to be a much weaker man than he'd like to acknowledge while simultaneously offering a smart take on starting over. Hadley's twin narratives are perfectly tuned and heavy with lacerating observations about the way fate works. (June)
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“Powerful…. Ms. Hadley has a talent for the canny detail…. There are platoons of novelists producing work about middle-class marriages in disarray, most of it very dull. Ms. Hadley is one of the gifted exceptions, and the calm acuity with which she depicts these fractured relationships is haunting.” (Sam Sacks, Wall Street Journal)

“[Hadley] is a writer who has always allowed her fiction space to breathe beyond its narrative borders. . . . Shows how language, deployed with precision or daring, can make thrillingly new the textures and undercurrents of everyday life.” (Peter Parker, Sunday Times (London))

“Hadley is a close observer of her characters’ inner worlds. Her language can be fine-grained, subtle, eloquent…. Hadley is a supremely perceptive writer of formidable skill and intelligence, someone who goes well beyond surfaces.” (Jean Thompson, New York Times Book Review)

“The London Train brings a quiet, nuanced intelligence to domestic fiction….The London Train is the sort of muted, thoughtful read that requires switching from the clattering express onto life’s slow local tracks. Hadley, a meticulous stylist, has woven into her narrative reflections on memory and time.” (Heller McAlpin, NPR)

“Impressive. . . . a triumph of form.” (Ti Sperlinger, Independent on Sunday (London))

“Hadley’s strength lies in her characterization. . . . . There’s something pleasingly human about them. With characters like these Hadley makes us wonder what forms our own darkness takes.” (Richard Platt, TimeOut (London))

“Spectacular….A compelling and serious page-turner.” (Anna Shapiro, The Observer (London) on Accidents in the Home)

“Tessa Hadley is a writer whose antennae are almost indecently attuned to the interior static of private lives....[M]asterly...” (Emma Hagestadt, The Independent)

“Elizabeth Bowen-like in its attention to nuance in language and behaviour, this concise novel also offers a sharp portrait of modern Britain.” (Peter Parker, London Sunday Times)

“The minds of Paul and Cora are so fully occupied by this most astute and sympathetic of writers....Hadley has crafted real excitement, so that each story ends in a flurry of curiosity and The London Train snaps shut with an effective twist.” (Susanna Rustin, The Guardian)
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Original edition (May 24, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062011839
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062011831
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (38 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #395,073 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
Tessa Hadley's THE LONDON TRAIN, a novel in two parts, has the unique distinction of being both high-brow and accessible. It's not written with flowery, over-the-top language, but it's not colloquial or dull, either. Hadley has a way of introducing us to people that we don't particularly sympathize with but still feel as though we understand. Upon completing the novel, I can't honestly say that any of these people could be my best friends . . . but I don't need them to be. I can read about them and their difficult, messy lives, then move on.

Very introspective, this novel falls into the category where not much actually happens -- but so much does. As the story unfurls and reveals more and more about Paul and Cora's lives, particularly in the past, we're painted an accurate glimpse of two very interior lives. The novel could have become dry -- very easily -- but, you know? For me, it worked. I started reading on a Friday evening and wound up finishing almost half before bed. Hadley's writing is mesmerizing.

Though it lacked the strong emotional component I crave to make a book a favorite, I can certainly see why THE LONDON TRAIN was longlisted for the Orange Prize and is generating buzz. The story's strength, like all good books, lies with the characters. For good or for ill, these were people I really got to know. Without much difficulty, I could probably sketch you a list of their likes and dislikes, pains and triumphs. They're people who will stay with me, especially Paul. It brings chance encounters to new, romantic and heartbreaking heights.
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Format: Paperback
The Harper Perennial edition of "The London Train" (2011) by Tessa Hadley is made to order for book reading groups with a taste for good literary fiction. There is more than enough here to spark two hours of lively discussion. First of all is the fact that the story is actually two related stories, both short length novels. The title novel (161 pages) is coupled with "Only Children" (also 161 pages).

How come two novels? The answer, which Hadley provides in the very useful Harper Perennial P.S. section that follows the text, offers plenty of discussion material. "[I]t began with my desire to write like a man . . . . I wanted to flex the male bits of my sensibility." And flex them she did in "The London Train." In the second novel, "Only Children", which, in her word "mirror[s]" the first, she writes in her normal tone as a woman. Convincing cross gender writing is not easy. Annie Proulx (e.g. "Heart Songs and Other Stories" 1988) carries it off as well as any woman author I've read. The group's views on Hadley's effort are bound to make for lively debate.

Hadley's insights about writing, and about her writing particularly, are quite as penetrating, although not as extensive, those Flannery O'connor provides in "Mystery and Manners" (1970). Hadley expresses hers in the short essay "In Praise of the Present-Day Novel"in the P.S. Section. There is more than enough here to get the group from coffee to cake. "[W]riting is slow, and the `present day' the novelist struggles to express will likely be a lifetime, the whole span of time in which they are alive and witnessing..." Hadley's insights, elegant prose, and sense of time and place make clear that she has mastered the art of writing. See if you don't agree.

End note.
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Format: Paperback
Married people meet on a train, fall in love, then part: There is a Brief Encounter feeling to this novel, despite its modernity. In the first section, the titular "London Train" is Paul's means of escaping his family in the Welsh countryside to join his pregnant daughter (by a first marriage) in the city. In "Only Children," which follows, Cora rides the train when she flees London --- and her husband --- and returns to her birthplace in Cardiff. Beyond the train itself, the comparison with that classically reticent film makes sense because of the way Hadley's prose recalls its painful delicacy and tremulous undercurrents. Her intelligence is keen; her writing is fresh and precise.

Paul is a middling author and critic living with his wife, Elise, and their two daughters. His mother has just died in a home for the elderly; on the last night of her life, she made what the institution's owner calls a "bid for freedom" --- meaning that she wandered out into the garden wearing only her nightgown. When Paul subsequently discovers that Pia, his adult daughter, is pregnant and living in a grubby London flat with a couple of Polish immigrants, he sets out to rescue her. But within days he finds himself slipping into Pia's life, dabbling in a more casual, less thwarted existence.

Loss also triggers change for Cora, a teacher married for a dozen years to Robert, an apparently unflappable civil servant considerably older than herself. Like Paul, she is an only child, and like him she has been left fretful and unmoored by her parents' deaths. Unhappily childless, torn between a desire for independence and her "old-fashioned wife-identity," she starts commuting to Wales to renovate her childhood home with a view to its eventual sale.
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