The London Train

The London Train

by Tessa Hadley


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780062011831
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 05/24/2011
Series: P.S. Series
Edition description: Original
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 201,780
Product dimensions: 7.84(w) x 5.36(h) x 0.88(d)

About the Author

Tessa Hadley is the author of five highly praised novels: Accidents in the Home, which was longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award; Everything Will Be All Right; The Master Bedroom; The London Train, which was a New York Times Notable Book; and Clever Girl. She is also the author of two short story collections, Sunstroke and Married Love, which were New York Times Notable Books as well. Her stories appear regularly in The New Yorker. She lives in London.

Read an Excerpt

The London Train

By Tessa Hadley

Harper Perennial

Copyright © 2011 Tessa Hadley
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9780062011831

Chapter One

By the time Paul got to the Home, the undertakers
had already removed his mother's body.
He protested at this, it seemed done in indecent
haste. He had set out as soon as they telephoned him;
surely they could have waited the three or four hours
it had taken him to get there (the traffic had been heavy
on the M5). Mrs Phipps, the owner of the Home, guided
him into her office, where whatever scene he might make
wouldn't upset the other residents. She was petite, vivacious,
brown-skinned, with traces of a South African
accent; he didn't dislike her, he thought she ran the
Home to a good standard of care, his mother had seemed
to resign herself gratefully to her efficiency and brisk
baby-talk. Even at this moment, however, there was no
sign that the taut, bright mask of Mrs Phipps's good
humour, respectfully muted in the circumstances, ever
gave way to any impulse of authentic feeling. Her room
was pleasant; an open sash window let in the afternoon
spring sunshine from the garden. On the wall behind
her desk was pinned a colourful year planner, almost
every square scribbled over with busyness and responsibility:
he imagined a space on the planner where his
mother's occupation of her room abutted abruptly onto
If he wanted to see his mother, Mrs Phipps said,
putting the right nuance of sorrowful tact into her voice,
she could telephone the undertakers, he could go to see
her there. Paul was aware of the hours ahead as requiring
scrupulous vigilance; he must be so careful to do the
right thing, but it wasn't clear what the right thing might
be. He said he would take the undertakers' address and
number, and Mrs Phipps gave it to him.
– I ought to let you know, she added – because I
wouldn't want you to find out in any roundabout
way, that Evelyn made another of her bids for freedom
last night.
– Bids for freedom?
He thought that she was using an odd euphemism for
dying, but she went on to explain that his mother had
got out of bed at some point in the evening, and gone
into the garden in her nightdress. There was a place they
always looked when they couldn't find her: Evelyn's
little den in the shrubbery.
– I'm sorry that it happened. But I did warn you that
we simply aren't able to provide twenty-four hour
supervision of residents when they fall ill. The girls were
in and out of her room all evening, checking on her.
That was how we realized she had got out. To be frank
with you, she was so weak none of us had imagined she
was even capable of getting out of bed. She can only
have been out there for ten to fifteen minutes before we
found her. Twenty at the most.
They had brought her inside and put her back to bed.
She had had a good night; she only deteriorated after
breakfast this morning.
Mrs Phipps was worrying that he might make a
complaint, Paul realized.
– It's all right. If that's what she wanted to do, then
I'm glad she was able to get out.
She was relieved, although she didn't understand his
point. – Of course we were worried about her body
temperature, these spring nights are treacherous. We
wrapped her up warmly and made her a hot drink, we
kept an eye on her all through the night.
Paul asked if he could sit in his mother's room for a
while. They had already stripped her bed and pulled up
over the mattress a clean counterpane in the standard
flowered material that was everywhere in the Home:
there were no signs he could see of what had taken place
in here. Mrs Phipps had reassured him that his mother
had 'gone very peacefully', but he took this as no more
than a form of words. He sat for a while in his mother's
armchair, looking round at her things: the last condensed
residue of the possessions that had accompanied her from
her home to her small flat in sheltered accommodation
and then to this room. He recognized some of them only
because he had moved them for her each time; others
were familiar from his childhood and youth: a majolica
fruit bowl, a blue glass girl who had once been fixed on
the side of a vase for flowers, the red Formica coffee table
that always stood beside her chair, with its built-in ashtray
on a chrome stem.
When Paul left the Home, he drove to the undertakers
and sat in his car in their small forecourt car park. He
had to go inside and talk to them about arrangements
for the funeral; but there was also the issue of seeing his
mother's body. He was his parents' only child. Evelyn
had absorbed the brunt of his father's death twenty years
ago, when Paul was in his twenties: now all the lines
met in him. Of course his wife would be sorry, and his
children too; however, because for the last few years
Evelyn's mind had wandered farther and farther, she had
become a distant figure to the girls, and he had only
brought them to visit her every so often. She still recognized
them, but if they went into the garden to play, or
even if they went to the toilet, or moved round to the
other side of her chair, she would forget she had already
seen them; each time they returned she would greet them
again, her face lighting up with the same delight.
His father had died in hospital after a heart attack;
Evelyn was with him, Paul had been living in Paris at
the time and had not arrived until the next day. The
possibility of seeing the body had not arisen; in his
concentration then on his mother's bereavement, it probably
hadn't seemed important. Now he did not know
whether this was important or not. He peered into the
undertakers' shop window with its kitsch discretion, urns
and pleated silks and artificial flowers. When eventually
he got out of his car to go inside, he realized it was past
six o'clock. There was a closed sign hanging on the shop
door, with a number to contact in case of emergency,
which he didn't write down. He would come back in
the morning.
He had got into the habit of using the Travelodge, if
ever he needed to stay overnight in Birmingham when
he came to visit his mother; conveniently, there was one
only ten minutes' drive from the Home. He unpacked
his few things, a clean shirt and socks, toothbrush, a
notebook, the two books of poetry he was reviewing –
he had not known when he set out in the morning how
long he would need to stay. Then he telephoned Elise.
– She'd gone by the time I got there, he said.
– Oh, poor Evelyn.
– Mrs Phipps said she went very peacefully.
– Oh, Paul. I'm so sorry. Are you all right? Where
are you? Do you need me to come up? I'm sure I could
get someone to have the girls.
He reassured her that he was all right. He didn't want
to eat, but walked around the streets until he found a
pub where he drank two pints, and browsed a copy of
the Birmingham Mail that was lying on a table. His
mind locked into the words, he read each page exhaustively,
taking in without any inward commentary every
least detail: crime, entertainment, in memoriam. He had
a dread of being overtaken by some paroxysm of grief
in a public place. Back in his room, he did not want to
read either of the poetry books; when he had undressed
he looked in the drawer of the bedside table for a Bible,
but it was a New International Version, no good to him.
He turned out the light and lay under the sheet, because
the heating was stuffy and airless and you could not
open the windows more than a crack. Through the crack
the fine spring night sent its smells of greenness and
growth, mingled with petrol fumes from the road outside
that never stilled or grew quiet, however late it was. He
was relieved, he thought. What had happened was merely
the ordinary, expected, common thing: the death of an
elderly parent, the release from a burden of care. He had
not wanted her life prolonged, in the form it had taken
recently. He had not visited her as often as he should.
He had been bored, when he did visit.
When he closed his eyes there came an unwanted
image of his mother out in the dark garden of the Home
in her nightdress, so precise that he sat up in bed
abruptly. She seemed so close at hand that he looked
around for her: he had the confused but strong idea
that this present moment could be folded closely enough
to touch against a moment last night, that short time
ago when she was still alive. He saw not the bent old
lady she had become, but the mature woman of his
teenage years: her dark hair in the plait she had long
ago cut off, the thick-lensed black-rimmed glasses of
those days, her awkward tall strength and limbs full of
power. When she was still alive it had been difficult
sometimes for him to remember her past selves, and he
had been afraid he had lost them for ever, but this recall
was vivid and total. He switched on the light, got out
of bed, turned on the television and watched the news,
images of the war in Iraq.
Lying stretched out again in the dark on his back,
naked, covered with the sheet, he couldn't sleep. He
wished he could remember better those passages in The
Aeneid where Anchises in the Underworld explains to
his son how the dead are gradually cleansed in the afterlife
of all the thick filth and encrusting shadows that
have accumulated through their mortal involvement,
their living; when after aeons they are restored to pure
spirit, they long, they eagerly aspire, to return to life
and the world and begin again. Paul thought that there
was no contemporary language adequate to describe the
blow of his mother's vanishing. A past in which a
language of such dignity as Virgil's was possible seemed
to him itself sometimes only a dream.
The next morning when he went back to the undertakers
he told himself in advance that he must ask to see
her body. However, once he was involved in making the
arrangements for the funeral, he found it difficult to
speak at all, even to give his minimal consent to whatever
was proposed: his dumbness did not come from
deep emotion, but its opposite, a familiar frozen aversion
that seized him whenever he had to transact these
false relations with the external world. He imagined the
young man he spoke with had been trained to watch for
the slips and give-away confusions of grieving family
members, and so he tried to make himself coldly impenetrable.
Elise should have been there to help him, she
was gifted at managing this side of life. He could not
bring himself to expose to the youth's solicitude any
intimate need to touch his mother a last time; and perhaps
anyway he didn't want to touch her.
Afterward he went to the Home as he had arranged,
to deal with paperwork and to clear his mother's belongings
from her room, although Mrs Phipps had insisted
there was no hurry, he was welcome to leave things as
they were until after the funeral. He sat again in Evelyn's
armchair. The room was really quite small; but on the
occasion they had come here first to look at it, there
had been someone playing a piano downstairs, and he
had allowed this to convince him that the Home was a
humane place, that it would be possible to have a full
life here. He had not often heard the piano afterward.
When he had packed a few things into boxes he asked
Mrs Phipps to dispose of the rest, and also to show him
what she had called his mother's 'den' in the garden; he
saw her wonder whether he was going to make
difficulties after all.
In the garden the noise of traffic wasn't insistent. The
sun was shining, the bland neat garden, designed for
easy upkeep, was full of birdsong: chaffinch and blackbird
the broody rumble of the collared doves. Mrs
Phipps's high-heeled beige suede shoes grew dark from
the grass still wet with dew as they crossed the lawn,
her heels sinking in the turf, and he saw that she was
annoyed by this, but would not say anything. The Home
had been a late Victorian rectory, built on a small rise:
at the far end of the garden she showed him that, if you
pushed through the bushes to where the old stone wall
curved round, there was a little trodden space of bare
earth, a twiggy hollow, room enough in it to stand
upright. The wall was too high for an old lady to sit on
or climb over, but she could have leaned on it and looked
over at the view, she could have watched for anyone
coming. When Evelyn was a child, when there was still
a rector in the rectory, everything beyond this point
would have been fields and woods: now it was built up
as far as the eye could see. Paul pushed inside the hollow
himself and looked out, while Mrs Phipps waited,
politely impatient to get back to her day's business. He
could see from there the sprawling necropolis of the
remains of Longbridge, where Evelyn's brothers had
worked on the track in the Fifties and Sixties, building
Austin Princesses and Rileys and Minis. At night this
great post-industrial expanse of housing development
and shopping complexes and scrapyards was mysterious
behind its myriad lights; by day it looked vacant, as if
the traffic flowed around nowhere.


Excerpted from The London Train by Tessa Hadley Copyright © 2011 by Tessa Hadley. Excerpted by permission of Harper Perennial. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

What People are Saying About This

Sam Sacks

“Powerful…. Ms. Hadley has a talent for the canny detail…. There are platoons of novelists producing work about middle-class marriages in disarray, most of it very dull. Ms. Hadley is one of the gifted exceptions, and the calm acuity with which she depicts these fractured relationships is haunting.”

Anna Shapiro

“Spectacular….A compelling and serious page-turner.”

Ti Sperlinger

“Impressive. . . . a triumph of form.”

Jean Thompson

“Hadley is a close observer of her characters’ inner worlds. Her language can be fine-grained, subtle, eloquent…. Hadley is a supremely perceptive writer of formidable skill and intelligence, someone who goes well beyond surfaces.”

Heller McAlpin

“The London Train brings a quiet, nuanced intelligence to domestic fiction….The London Train is the sort of muted, thoughtful read that requires switching from the clattering express onto life’s slow local tracks. Hadley, a meticulous stylist, has woven into her narrative reflections on memory and time.”

Susanna Rustin

“The minds of Paul and Cora are so fully occupied by this most astute and sympathetic of writers....Hadley has crafted real excitement, so that each story ends in a flurry of curiosity and The London Train snaps shut with an effective twist.”

Richard Platt

“Hadley’s strength lies in her characterization. . . . . There’s something pleasingly human about them. With characters like these Hadley makes us wonder what forms our own darkness takes.”

Peter Parker

“Elizabeth Bowen-like in its attention to nuance in language and behaviour, this concise novel also offers a sharp portrait of modern Britain.”

Emma Hagestadt

“Tessa Hadley is a writer whose antennae are almost indecently attuned to the interior static of private lives....[M]asterly...”

Customer Reviews

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The London Train 3.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 21 reviews.
Johanna197 More than 1 year ago
This book was like grabbing onto thin air. There is no substance, no defined story line and not long after I stareted reading the plot disappeared. Paul, husband and father, shuns his homelife to hang out with his daughter in the tiny, overcrowded apartment of her friend's sister. The daughter is pregnant, her boyfriend and his sister are doing drugs and it becomes disturbing and irrational and there's no reason to care about any of these people and what happens to them. Don't waste your time on this book, it's time you won't get back.
Cariola on LibraryThing 6 months ago
The London Train takes the form of two novelettes, loosely interwoven. In the first, Paul, a thrice-married man with two little girls, gets a call from an ex-wife telling him that their 18-year old daughter has dropped out of college, moved to parts unknown, won't tell anyone where she is, and refuses to answer her cell phone. Eventually, she contacts Paul, who finds Pia pregnant and living in a dumpy flat with an older Polish man and his sister. For reasons that are never quite clear to me (except maybe that he fantasizes about the sister), Paul moves into their flat, leaving his family behind. At various points during his stay, Paul, a known philanderer, mentions "the last time," and the second story focuses on Cora, with whom he had that affair. Cora is separated from her husband Robert--again for reasons unknown, except perhaps her guilt over the affair, a subsequent miscarriage, and not being able to bear Robert's children. She reminisces about her affair with Paul and her past with Robert while sorting things out.Although the novel had its interesting moments, I never quite connected with either Paul or Cora and found my attention drifting.
maneekuhi on LibraryThing 6 months ago
The London Train is a 1 star NYT Notable of 2011. Rather boring, didn't care for the characters, none were appealing nor interesting. Four sections. In section one, we meet Paul, married a 2nd time, 2 kids, incredibly lives with his somewhat estranged and strange pregnant 20 year old daughter, her 35 (?) year old boyfriend from unknown, and his sister in a dumpy flat in London, for several weeks. Oh, and he's a poet. In the next section we meet Cora who works in a library and says she is an English teacher (who would have guessed). She's divorcing, kinda. In section three, we get Paul and Cora together and then not. In the last, we get what I'll just call the aftermath. What was the NYT thinking ?
Ani36ol on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I loved this novel. I've never read anything by Tessa Hadley before and was thrilled to find that this was an intriguing read with almost totally separate story lines by intertwined characters. Each character had their own interesting story, as we all do in life, and that is what kept me reading. It wasn't confusing or hard to figure out as some books written in this way can be. An excellent beach read!
bobbieharv on LibraryThing 6 months ago
I just couldn't get into this - guys who suddenly decide to move into flats with their pregnant daughters, abandoning his wife for unexplained reasons, just don't grab me. Put it down before the second half.
ReviewsbyMolly on LibraryThing 6 months ago
So. Where do I begin? Guess I'll start with my honesty. I didn't LOVE this book. It was okay but, I didn't LOVE it. It didn't have that *oomph* that I like to see in books. Don't get me wrong, it's a pretty good literary fiction novel-if you like that hard to follow, often times slow paced book. It's VERY dramatic at times and at others it's a bit off. It's told in two sections: Paul's story of living on the edge with his pregnant daughter and, the second half is Cora's story, wanting to live a life of solitude, away from her husband and his sister.Both characters are extremely complex and have flaws about them, but they jumped from one point to another in each aspect of their stories. It was really hard to follow the dramatics of their stories sometimes and it was a slow paced novel, because of that. Their stories were different yet both characters were learning to accept life as it was. They wanted to experience life at a new and not always improved angle. While this is a book that I can't see my self reading over and over again in the future, I can't say that I wouldn't recommend it to others. I give this novel recommendation because I feel that just because I didn't enjoy it, there may be others who truly will enjoy this kind of literary drama. This novel gets 3 stars from me, and I will look for future work from this author as she definitely shows signs of having a knack for writing.
julie10reads on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Another LibraryThing recommendation, whose cover almost stopped me from reading it. Looks like Chick Lit, a Bridget Jones clone to me, but after reading about the author and her favourite books included in an appendix, I began to read. It's 2 novellas, linked I thought by the "train". Actually, the stories are more intimately connected than that and are written in an almost flat prose that will deceive you into thinking it is Chick Lit after all. Until you read lines like these:"Once Cora had believed that living built a cumulative bank of memories, thickening and deepening as time went on, shoring you against emptiness. She had used to treasure up relics from every phase of her life as it passed, as if they were holy. Now that seemed to her a falsely consoling model of experience. The present was always paramount, in a way that thrust you forward : empty, but free. "
writestuff on LibraryThing 6 months ago
Paul is grieving the death of his elderly mother and feels oddly detached from his wife, Elise, and their two small daughters. When he gets a frantic call from his ex-wife that their daughter, Pia, has disappeared, Paul boards a train from his home in Cardiff, Wales in order to travel to London in search of her. He finds Pia pregnant and living with her Polish boyfriend and her boyfriend¿s sister, Anna, in a rundown flat. Inexplicably drawn to Anna, Paul eventually abandons his family in Wales and moves into Pia¿s flat in London.In a parallel story, Cora finds herself disenfranchised with her marriage to the much older Robert. She leaves him in London and moves back to her childhood home in Wales which she inherited after the death of her parents. When she learns that Robert has gone missing, she rushes back to London in search of him.The London Train is about these two characters. What appears to be divergent stories, eventually weave together through a series of flashbacks, memories, and the unexpected crossing of paths during a train ride. The first half of the book follows Paul¿s journey through grief and loss, betrayal and abandonment. The second half of the book, which I found much more compelling, examines Cora¿s life shortly after her mother¿s death and the disintegration of her marriage. It is through Cora¿s story that the reader discovers the connection between Paul and Cora.Tessa Hadley¿s prose is subtle. Her narrative ebbs and flows, giving glimpses into the lives of her characters, revealing their flaws and fears, showing us their daily lives and how a chance meeting reverberates beyond them to touch the lives of those closest to them.They were all of them sleepwalking to the edge of a great pit, like spoiled trusting children, believing they would always be safe, be comfortable. - from The London Train, page 90 -Thematically, the novel centers around grief and loss, and how we cover our emotional wounds. The journey through grief is symbolically captured in the relentless, monotonous movement of the London train ¿ it moves forward and back, from London to Wales, and back to London ¿ just as our emotions click back and forth from loss to recovery. Interestingly, the effect this had on me as a reader was almost hypnotic. The characters¿ feelings are strangely muted at times ¿ a disconcerting thing in the face of their great losses and dislocation. With the loss of her parents behind her, and the loss of the babies she might have had ahead, she was withdrawn out of the past and future into this moment of herself, like a barren island, or a sealed box. - from The London Train, page 234 -The London Train is a very slow moving novel. I must admit, the first half of the book dragged for me. I did not particularly like Paul, a man whose narcissism causes him to cheat on his wife, then abandon her and his children. Even when he returns to Elise, he seems to lack any understanding as to how his behavior has injured her. Luckily, the second half the book, which focuses on Cora, was better paced. Cora, although also seriously flawed and only marginally more likeable, was a character whose struggles were more relate-able to me. Cora¿s grief over the loss of her mother, her inability to have children, and her loneliness were believable, and Cora becomes a more empathetic character as her story unfolds.Overall, I found The London Train to be a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, I enjoyed some of the subtlety of the novel, and Hadley¿s writing drew me in. On the other hand, the pace was so slow at times, and the characters so unlikeable (especially Paul), that I found my mind drifting ¿ I wanted these characters to just get on with their lives, figure it out, and stop being so selfish.The London Train was long listed for the 2011 Orange Prize for Fiction.Readers who enjoy literary fiction and subtle writing styles might want to give The London Train a try.
tibobi on LibraryThing 6 months ago
The Short of It: Understated, quiet and lovely. The Rest of It: Paul and his second wife Elise have had issues in the past, but at the moment, they seem to be doing well. That is, until he leaves her to live with his pregnant daughter in a ramshackle flat with a couple of strangers. While Paul struggles to find his place in this new arrangement, Cora finds herself utterly conflicted over her recent separation from her husband Robert. The two stories intersect to create a new dynamic that force these characters to face life, head on. This is a book of moments. As a whole, it¿s very quiet and simple but there are moments within it that beg to be reread, or even read out loud. There is a lilting, pleasing tone to the writing that I found quite enjoyable. Although at first glance nothing much happens, as this is not a plot-driven novel, there is a lot that happens within the characters. Revelations. Realizations. Understanding. Once, Cora had believed that living had built a cumulative bank of memories, thickening and deepening as time went on, shoring you against emptiness. She had used to treasure up relics from every phase of her life as it passed, as if they were holy. Now that seemed to her a falsely consoling model of experience. The present was always paramount, in a way that thrust you forward: empty, but also free. Readers who enjoy reflection and contemplative musing will truly appreciate this novel. The writing was lovely and it left me with a deep sense of peace. The London Train was longlisted for the Orange Prize but didn¿t make the shortlist. A real shame if you ask me.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
It was interesting. ~*~LEB~*~
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Try chapter sample as can be too annoying to read
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G night
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What the? And camp moved to the eightth result.
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