Journeys on Trains

Posted 10 Jul 2015 by Jane Mathieson in Opinion

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins  has just broken a record by being in top spot in Nielsen BookScan’s hardback fiction charts for the 20th week in a row, the longest stretch since the book sales monitor’s records began. I haven’t read it yet and understand that this isn’t really a book about being on a train but the action does occur as a result of train journeys.

This morning I became mildly involved in an altercation on my train journey to work. Trains I get at that time of day are always over-crowded, hot and uncomfortable but as for many of us, its only a 10 or so minute journey we usually put up with it quietly, occasionally sharing a wry comment.

Fridays are always a bit quieter. Many people clearly take Fridays off or work at home and there is a chance of occasionally getting a seat. This morning there were a number of “apparent “ seats available, on the ends of bench seats made for 3 and already occupied by 2 people. I sat on the end of one uneventfully. The seat in front was already occupied by a woman and a large man, when another woman attempted to sit on the end. Man didn’t budge. Woman very politely asked the man to move up slightly. He grudgingly shifted a little then started to complain about his legs and his bag on his feet. Then he became louder, shouting and accusing the woman of being aggressive(!) . I offered her my support saying I thought she was in the right. Every other bench was occupied by 3 people. There clearly was room for her if he just shifted a bit. Regretfully, as he continued to mutter & complain she got up and moved. I wish she hadn’t but I understood why she did.

This put me in a reflective mood- about the close proximity to unpredictable people we are forced into on trains and also about how angry and close to an “edge” many people seem to be. What books are out there that reflect these issues?

There are many thrillers and crime books set on trains- the randomness of passengers often being a cover for a planned assault. Without mentioning the obvious one by Agatha Christie, Murder on the Orient Express, there is also Strangers on a Train, b7w drawing of 2 men in profileby Patricia Highsmith. Cuckold Guy gets talking to loopy Bruno and is offered a deal: I'll kill your wife, if you murder my dad; with no connection between us, the police will never track us down.


Stamboul Train, by Graham Greene On a train from Ostend to Istanbul, assorted characters – an exiled politician, a beautiful woman, a journalist, a fleeing criminal – are thrown together with amorous and violent consequences. There are plot complications in Vienna and desperate dangers at a stop in Serbia, where the protagonist, the businessman Myatt, finds himself plunged into murderous political rivalries.

I remember that one of the best books I have ever read- A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry features a classic long, crowded journey on an Indian train.

What else is there? I’m sure I have read lots of books that feature train journeys and would love to be reminded of them.

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Librarians in the North West have pioneered partnership working to encourage new readers into libraries. Time To Read is a partnership of librarians engaged in reader development activity in public library authorities in the North West Region. 22 public library authorities in the region currently support Time To Read.

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