Book 87: The London Train by Tessa Hadley
Two people meet on a train to London. Improbably, their chance meeting leads to a love affair. It is intense, but brief. Both are married; the man has children and makes clear that they are what's important to him.
Tessa Hadley charts the course of this affair and its effects upon the man and woman in the beautifully told, closely observed The London Train. The novel is really two novellas, one belonging to the man and one to the woman.
The woman is only mentioned in passing in the first novella, The London Train. Paul, her erstwhile lover, is reeling. His mother has just died and now he learns that his oldest daughter, from his first marriage, is missing. He later finds her living with a Polish man, safe, but pregnant.
Paul flees his rural home, leaving his current wife and two young daughters. He lives for a spell with his daughter and her lover, entertaining thoughts of an affair with a woman his daughter's age.
In the second novella, Only Children, Cora has fled London and her husband for the consolation of her childhood home. It soon becomes clear that the affair has had a more lasting, unsettling effect upon Cora than Paul.
The affair fulfilled the needs of both Paul and Cora. Paul is a sexual predator, blithely unconcerned with the impact of his cheating on his wife or Cora. Cora is unaware of her needs until Paul stirs something deep within her. Now -- hurt, confused, angry -- she withdraws from life.
Hadley has given the reader a subtle, powerful study of how one event effects two people so differently. It is honest and true and disquieting. The London Train is a challenging journey with a rewarding destination.
Book 88: All The Time In The World by E.L. Doctorow
Readers of The New Yorker will recognize many of the stories in this collection by celebrated novelist E.L. Doctorow. Seven of the 12 stories were originally published in that magazine.
It is an uneven collection. Some of the stories are superb, yet others fail to meet a reader's expectation. Liner Notes: The Songs of Billy Bathgate feels incomplete. It is as if Doctorow couldn't fit these pieces into a novel, hated to see them go unused and so here they appear.
The solution is to skip this book -- there are far better story collections on the bookstore shelves just now -- and subscribe to The New Yorker.