Full disclosure: I love trains. I’m a bit of a train geek and try to fit in a railway journey whenever I travel. So I was always going to be well disposed to a book about train journeys.
Paul Theroux’s book is an account of his travels by train in the mid-seventies. Each chapter is a different route, and together they form a sinuous path across Europe and Asia. Now, bad travel writing is tedious- who wants to read about someone else’s holiday?
But this is wonderful.
Theroux’s places are often just a brief, colourful description of its most vivid features and his people are eccentric characters who appear for only a single conversation. It’s not much like real life- it reads like a quirky indie film at times.
These are obviously his edited highlights. But it perfectly fits the mode of travel: this is what trains are like. The chance encounters, the flashes of scenery through a window, which all combine into a dense, detailed map of his travels.
Trains are perhaps the most effective way to grasp a new place: more grounded than plane, less insular than car and more pourous than a bus. Therefore they form the perfect conduit for Theroux’s worlds.
This book has inspired some serious wanderlust in me. Thank God for the 16-25 Railcard.