Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Alexander McCall-Smith. Trains and Lovers (2012)

     Alexander McCall-Smith. Trains and Lovers (2012) Four people share a compartment from Euston to Edinburgh. Two young men tell the stories of their loves, the older woman tells of her parent’s love, and the older man keeps silent, but we learn about his life-long chaste gay love for his boyhood friend. McCall-Smith knows how to tell stories so that we want to know more. His writing is skilful, his dialogue sounds natural, his scene-setting creates ambience the way good movie music does: we hardly notice that it’s done, still less how it’s done.
     The events of his characters’ lives are hardly unusual. It’s McCall-Smith’s ability to make the ordinariness of life significant that explains his popularity. I find his books very readable, but they are finally not quite satisfying. They are very well done stories, but they don’t demand that we reflect on our own lives, they don’t make us rethink our prejudices and insights. On they contrary, they soothe us by suggesting that our attitudes are just fine the way they are. A young man and a young woman can find a life-long love despite the social distance between them. A young woman can be deceptive and duplicitous. A man and a woman’s life together can engender something deeper than mutual respect.  Love is more than sex, it can grow and continue without sex. Do we doubt these insights? Only if we insist on cynicism, and McCall-Smith somehow disarms the impulse to sneer. That’s what makes his books something more than pleasant entertainments. **½

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