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April-May 2015 travel news 47
The Girl on the Train
by Paula Hawkins
The story features three women, two of
whom are emotionally damaged. They
comprise Rachel, an alcoholic, Megan
who has never recovered from her
beloved brother’s tragic accident and
death when she was still in her mid-teens,
and Anna who is ‘normal’. The book opens
with Rachel’s story which although sad
she has undergone a divorce that has
increased her alcoholism – becomes a
monotonous whinge, even when the plot
moves on to Megan who comes over as
attractive but decidedly irritating. It has all
the makings of a rather unpleasant book,
which indeed it is, although redeemed by
Hawkins’ talent for tightening the tension.
Rachel travels to London and back by train
every day. When it stops at a particular
signal, which it usually does, she watches
a young couple who live in a pleasant
house near the track. Fantasising about
them, she calls them Jason and Jess. She
imagines them as her ideal, talented, good
looking and very much in love. Meanwhile
she makes her ex-husband and his new
wife’s life a misery. Tom and Anna, by
this time have a young baby, but are
almost demented by Rachel’s constant
harassment, and consider contacting the
police. Rachel’s alcoholism increases,
and one wonders how her kind flatmate
can put up with her.
Matters accelerate one Saturday night
when Rachel gets hopelessly drunk.
She manages to alight from the train, but
after that cannot remember what actually
happened, although she knows that it is
significantly bad and somebody is lying. But
the missing pieces won’t come together.
Meanwhile the story suddenly picks up,
while intrigue and suspicion grow after one
of the three main characters disappears.
Apart from one of them, the men in the
story are not exactly paragons of virtue
either. Additionally there is a man who
often travels on the same train as Rachel.
He appears friendly and she recollects that
he was there on that fateful night when she
had her alcoholic blackout. What does he
know about what happened, and will he
try to harm her?
Hawkins has been compared to Hitchcock
(her book has already been recommended
for filming) in her ability to build up tension.
This is a nasty but clever book, and once
the rather off-putting beginning is covered,
it is very readable, however obnoxious the
characters may be.
Time and Time Again
by Ben Elton
Elton elected to weave a tangled web
when he chose his latest novel’s theme. It
asks a question: “If you had one chance to
change history, where would you go, what
would you do and whom would you kill”?
It is Christmas 2024 in Cambridge, not
a very happy one for an uneasy Britain.
Hugh Stanton, ex-soldier-cum-hero, goes
to spend it with his ex-history professor.
She has a scheme to which she wants
him to agree. Through Isaac Newton’s
scientific brilliance, there is a way whereby
Stanton can step back into past time,
and by changing events he will improve
the future. Stanton is sceptical and asks,
why him? The answer is because he has
the right qualifications – military bravery,
know-how, and no personal ties.
Finally he agrees to undertake the
mission, which she requests. They travel
to Istanbul, which is the place chosen for
his disappearance back into time. The
selected date is June 1914. This of course
covers the build-up of events leading to
the Great War. What will Europe be like
if Stanton can stop it happening? Surely
nothing but good can come of preventing
this holocaust of slaughter and tragedy?
Once transferred by some strange
happening predicted by Newton, he goes
from the world he knows back to that year
when the world changed forever.
Elton deals masterfully with this
‘happening’, which is difficult to imagine.
Stanton arrives in a world where the people
he knew originally are not even born. He
struggles against using present day slang
for a start. To change the course of history
he must travel to Sarajevo, which he does,
after which his final destination is Berlin.
Mostly Elton manages to make this
bizarre situation plausible, holding interest
through describing how events develop.
Stanton does make a number of silly
mistakes, such as becoming involved with
an attractive lady, then drinking too much
would a seasoned warrior like him be so
foolish? Towards the finale, the time warp
becomes slightly confusing and even more
complicated, but the message comes over
loud and clear: it is futile to try and change
An exciting concept that Elton manages
to make almost plausible, the story will
keep most people reading, if only to find
out what happens in the end. Sadly that
is something of a disappointment. It is as
though he suddenly became tired of his
cleverness and thought ‘time to stop’.
Advice to those
who enjoy thrillers-
cum-crime, read it.
For the rest, don’t.
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