Trains and Lovers by Alexander McCall Smith
Other elements: Trains. Love.
Read it: if you’re in the mood for a non-committal but enjoyable peek into some strangers’ lives.
Overall rating: 6.25/10
The premise: four strangers in a train compartment strike up a conversation and end up trading stories about love. The reader jumps between the characters’ minds, experiencing each of their stories through their own eyes as well as through the minds of their listeners. The majority of the text, however, is one character at a time telling a story in the first person – with the exception of the one gentleman who wasn’t comfortable sharing his story and so just thought about it for the reader’s benefit.
Reading Trains and Lovers was like drinking a lukewarm cup of tea: better than no book at all, and not unpleasant, but not something I would seek out intentionally.
The love stories are quietly lovely, varied, and vivid, but the book as a whole reads more like several short stories rather than a novel. I was excpecting the characters to turn out to be dating each others’ cousins, or something along those lines. It was refreshing that Smith resisted the “and then they all turned out to be related!” gimmick, but I did end up wishing that there had been something more than what was there. The characters don’t seem to grow from sharing their experiences with each other, and only one of them gains any new insight from telling is story out loud.
Trains and Lovers is still an enjoyable read, but for it to be more than that I would have needed to see the characters disembark the train as subtlety different people than who they were when they boarded.
My thanks to edelweiss and Pantheon for providing me with a copy of this book for review.