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A Reader of Fictions: Train Song - Ben Gibbard & Feist

A Reader of Fictions

Book Reviews for Just About Every Kind of Book

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Train Song - Ben Gibbard & Feist

The Train

Author: Georges Simenon
Pages: 153
ARC Acquired from: Melville House Publishing via NetGalley

Brief Summary:
With the approach of the Germans, Marcel Feron flees Fumay, France with his wife and daughter. Unfortunately, women and children are given a different place on the train. When the train cars are shuffled around, Marcel is separated from his family. The train journey the refugees take is a long and wandering one, prompted by the hope to escape the Nazis. Along the way, Marcel begins an affair with one of the only women from his train car, Anna.

Believe it or not, I was a History major in undergrad, not English, although, given my love of literature, that might have been the obvious choice. I do also really enjoy reading about history, although I do it less, since so many academic historians write so dryly and reading their books is like pulling teeth. My favorite historical periods to study are World War I, World War II and the Vietnam War, not the battles so much, but what life was like. I am a sucker for novels about these time periods as much as I am for ya books with corsets on the cover.

I tried, somewhat halfheartedly, to find out some historical background on The Train, but was not particularly successful. Apparently, the book was forgotten after its initial publication and is now being republished in a snazzy new cover by Melville House, which is doing the same for a number of old titles. The initial publication in English was in 1964.

The book itself was somewhat of a disappointment. It had some inherent interest, because Simenon discussed a section of wartime life I knew nothing about, which I always love. The refugees on the trains are reminiscent of Holocaust memoirs, only they had it so incredibly easy. Their trains made so many stops, so they could get out and do their business, and they were given free, pretty plentiful and delicious food at each station. They had enough space to lay down in the train cars. Still, they were pretty cramped and they had no idea where they were going or precisely what would happen to them when they got there. This was all cool.

The main problem I had with The Train was either the translation or Simenon's writing style, although I cannot say which. The syntax was often odd and stilted, making me need to read a few sentences a couple of times to figure out what was going on. Its like the rhythm is just a little bit off somehow.

I also did not appreciate reading yet another book about an affair. Sigh. To be fair though, the affair did support the story and made perfect sense in context. The freedom that everyone felt was a part of the train journey too. It was so different from daily experience that people felt uninhibited: "I wasn't alone in feeling outside ordinary life and its conventions" (126).

Also cool is the question of how reliable of a narrator Marcel really is. Some of his assertions definitely need to be taken with a cellar of salt. At only 153 pages, The Train is well-worth the time it takes to read for the unique reflection on WWII life.

"It's so many miles and so long since I've left you
Don't even know what I'll find when I get to you
But suddenly now, I know where I belong
It's many hundred miles and it won't be long"

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Blogger Nori said...

Why were they fleeing the French? Otherwise, this sounds interesting. I love stuff that involves train rides. And I'm interested in this history too.

July 16, 2011 at 9:43 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

wah wah, I did not mean to type that. Sometimes I get ahead of myself and my fingers get confused and just start typing things.

Train rides? That's an interesting specialty. :-p Did it all start with The Murder on the Orient Express?

July 16, 2011 at 11:19 AM  
Blogger Nori said...

Haha. No, it actually started with a very short story in a book of short stories called Jesus' Son by Denis Johnson. If you like short stories, you should try it; it's super amazing. The story involves a Chicago L train ride. And it inspired my college thesis, which was a collection of short stories, all about a different person who goes on to the same train. I think I love trains too because of that transitional quality about them; there is so much you can do with a train ride.

July 17, 2011 at 9:28 AM  

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