The London Train

Tessa Hadley’s “The London Train” has been on my shelf too long – a perfect candidate for a long plane ride to London -a book I could read and leave en route.

The title fulfills its promise for a chance meeting on the London train, linking the lives of Paul and Cora. Separated into two sections, the story opens with Paul, a writer, distraught over the death of his elderly mother, discovering that his daughter by his first wife has left school, and is pregnant and living in London with her lover. He leaves his second wife and two young daughters to start a new life with them in London – that doesn’t quite work out.

Cora’s story fills in the blanks of her relationship with Paul -including their chance meeting three years earlier – while describing her strained marriage and her yearning for a child. When she connects with Paul, she envisions a better life – that also doesn’t quite work out.

At a point in the narrative, Hadley describes Cora reading a book – “The writing…was rather dry, in a sparse terse style, without atmospherics…” that fits her own nicely. I found myself skipping through the long mundane descriptions to find the storyline that backtracks to the life-changing encounter.

I did finish the book (and gave it away) after realizing the character development was more important than the plot. “The London Train” offers purposeful reading with thoughtful nuances – but I was hoping for more excitement to keep me awake on the flight.