Some books are greater than the sum of their parts; The London Train is one of these. Tessa Hadley's novel is really two novellas about two characters (Paul and Cora) who at first appear to be unconnected to one another. But of course that's not the case, and we see eventually how their stories wrap around each other's.
Both Paul and Cora are approaching middle age, have recently lost their mothers, and have unresolved baggage with their spouses, ex-spouses, children, friends. Both are adrift, rethinking their roles, trying out new identities. And their stories intersect in a way that seems surprisingly inevitable.
Yes, it sounds like all the late 20th/early 21st century British novels I like to read, but so what?
Hadley and her contemporaries (Joanna Trollope, Penelope Lively) write closely observed stories about people's interior lives where not much happens in the way of action but where much is to be learned about the way people think and feel. Hadley approaches her characters with a cool matter-of-factness. She does not judge them but sets them up for your judgment nevertheless.
I read the paperback version of The London Train, published by Harper Perennial, which contains an interesting essay by Hadley about her early days as a writer and another one about the process of writing The London Train. These were a bonus.
Becky Holmes blogs about books at A Book A Week.