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.
The London Train is a vivid and absorbing account of the impulses and accidents that can shape our lives, alongside our ideas; about loyalty, love, sex and the complicated bonds of friends and family. Penetrating, perceptive, and wholly absorbing, it is an extraordinary new novel from one of the best writers working in Britain today.
My opinion: I read this book for the book group I go to in the museum I used to work in. The group reads books that have Welsh links or an historical theme and this one was chosen as a lot of it was based in Wales, and I believe that Tessa Hadley lived in Cardiff until recently.
The book is split into two parts. The first is the story of Paul and the second, the story of Cora, and the two stories become interwoven. I enjoyed the first part of the book, even though Paul is a total pig of a man as I was more interested in reading about his family, including his daughter from his first marriage, Pia, who is living in London. I felt that Paul’s character was that of a stereotypical chauvinistic male with no cares for his responsibilities or those around him. I would have liked to have read more about his poor wife though.
I really disliked the second part of the book. Cora was a boring and unlikeable character, but what I found worse than this was the lack of research done for this part. As this half of the book was based in my local area of Cardiff, and included a couple of other subjects that I knew well, I was looking forward to reading it. Unfortunately, incorrect detail and sloppy research really spoilt this part for me.
Overall, I didn’t hate the book, but certainly wouldn’t recommend it. I won’t be rushing out to find more books from the author.
My rating: A disappointing three stars.