Trains and Lovers was my first Alexander McCall Smith novel, if you can believe it. It seems like I've always been aware of him but I just never read any of his books. I had mixed feelings going into this one as I have always heard great things of him but I hadn't heard rave reviews of this book. Turns out I still have mixed feelings! The book was alright but it wasn't anything all that special.
Here's the synopsis:
The rocking of the train car, the sound of its wheels on the rails...there's something special about this form of travel that makes for easy conversation. Which is just what happens to the four strangers who meet in Trains and Lovers. As they travel by rail from Edinburgh to London, they entertain one another with tales of how trains have changed their lives. A young, keen-eyed Scotsman recounts how he turned a friendship with a young woman co-worker into a romance by spotting an anachronistic train in an 18th-century painting. An Australian woman shares how her parents fell in love and spent their life together running a railroad siding in the remote Australian Outback. A middle-aged American arts patron sees 2 young men saying goodbye in the station and recalls his youthful crush on another man. And a young Englishman describes how exiting his train at the wrong station allowed him to meet an intriguing woman whom he impulsively invited to dinner--and into his life.I liked the idea of the story. I think everyone's probably struck up a conversation with a stranger before simply because of proximity. In the case of this train journey, the characters had their destination in common and an intimate conversation sprung from that. I like the idea of being able to tell a story to complete strangers that you may not tell your friends. There's something a little freeing about that. It's not that these characters are giving away their darkest secrets but they don't have to worry about any preconceived notions that they would have with friends.
I think my problem was that the stories did not have equal weight in my head while I was reading the book. I was most interested in Andrew's story and always wanted the focus to go back to him whenever another character was telling their story. Perhaps it's because he was really the first that we're introduced to and the first to speak in the train car or perhaps it's just because I liked his story the most. I suspect it's a combination of the two. David's story, the middle-aged American, just seemed like a throwaway and it didn't stick with me. Kay, the Australian woman, had an interesting historical story but I wished it had been her story, not her parent's. Finally, the Englishman, Hugh, doesn't get a chance to tell his story until well past halfway through the book. I suppose it makes sense that it was unbalanced because this way everyone gets their chance to tell their full story during their trip but I just wish it the stories were told in a slightly different way.
Trains and Lovers was a really fast read at 240 pages (it's also a small book, not your average hardcover size). Even though I didn't love it, it hasn't turned me off reading more of Alexander McCall Smith. I'd like to see what some of his other novels are like before deciding whether or not I like his writing. I'd recommend this novel if you're looking for a quick read that will make you think about the people you meet and what their stories are.
*I received a copy of this novel from the publisher, Random House of Canada, in exchange for an honest review.*