Review

Trains and Lovers

by Alexander McCall Smith

Four strangers on a train, seated together in a club car, share pieces of their lives as they reminisce about how trains have impacted them. They come from all corners of the world: Australia, America, Scotland and England. Their ages vary from early 20s to mid-50s, yet they share one common experience as the subject turns to love: loves gained, loves lost, a dangerous encounter, and fond memories of their parents.

Alexander McCall Smith is a master at looking into the human soul as his fans have grown to know the unforgettable characters in the many series he has produced over the past two decades. His wisdom and wit suffuse each novella, whether it is through Precious Ramotswe in the No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series, the philosophical Isabel Dalhousie, the young denizens of 44 Scotland Street, or another group of friends in Corduroy Mansions

"How delighted I was to dip into TRAINS AND LOVERS, which falls into that very small category of books that I call 'strokers.' When I finish a book that touches something deep within me, after I close the cover, I stroke it. And so it is with this prolific author’s latest and most original work."

In TRAINS AND LOVERS, we are introduced to four completely new characters whom we shall probably never hear from again as they take their leave upon arrival at London's Kings Cross Station. But their stories evoke the longings, the happiness, the nostalgia, and even the suspicion that comes from sharing your life, even briefly, with another. 

Kay is a middle-aged woman, returning to Australia from a nostalgic trip to Scotland, retracing the steps of her parents following World War II, when her father manned a train station in the Outback enroute to Alice Springs. 

A young man tells about striking up an intimate acquaintance with a young woman at a train station after accidentally getting off at the wrong stop. This romantic encounter turns into a tale of suspense and paranoia as he discovers she may not be who she says she is. 

A young apprentice at an art museum spots a modern train in the background of an 18th-century painting, casting doubt on its authenticity. His co-worker, a privileged young woman and fellow art student, is impressed with his keen eye, and they engage in a summer romance. Her overprotective father disapproves of her relationship with a starving artist, and in Smith’s canny Scottish way, he spins a tale of class warfare, scandal and fallen idols. 

The fourth man’s story is narrated only to the reader, as he refrains from sharing with his fellow passengers his painful memories of hopeless love for an unattainable object of his affection.

Alexander McCall Smith speaks of love as being “that part of our human life that for so many far outweighs any other…to give it and to receive it in that familiar battle that all of us fight with loneliness.” I’ve read and reviewed nearly all of his books over the years, and once or twice have been guilty of groaning inwardly, “Oh, another one already?” How delighted I was to dip into TRAINS AND LOVERS, which falls into that very small category of books that I call “strokers.” When I finish a book that touches something deep within me, after I close the cover, I stroke it. And so it is with this prolific author’s latest and most original work.

Reviewed by Roz Shea on June 28, 2013

Trains and Lovers
by Alexander McCall Smith

  • Publication Date: December 31, 2013
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor
  • ISBN-10: 034580581X
  • ISBN-13: 9780345805812