I have mixed feelings about this novel. On one hand, I appreciate that the author is raising awareness of mental health by examining the thoughts and behaviour of a suicidal man. On the other hand, there’s little to enjoy in the book. About 80% of the story consists of the protagonist travelling the UK by train, trying to connect with people while contemplating the worst experiences of his life. I had the impression that this novel was going to be an ‘uplifting’ read, for some reason. However, I found it depressing except for the ending, which was actually the least realistic part of the story.
The main character is Michael, a lonely middle-aged man who is struggling with debt, relationship breakdowns, grief and memories of abuse. He makes preparations to jump in front of a train, while delaying the act as he gets chatting to various other rail travellers. At a few points, the story also follows three other travellers whose lives intersect with his journey. This is definitely not a plot-driven novel. It focuses on Michael’s memories, his thoughts, his plans, his conjectures about strangers’ lives. There are a lot of realistic conversations too, mundane although occasionally surprising. While that’s a great skill for a writer to have, it doesn’t make for fascinating reading. I think the message of the novel is that there’s a lot of negative stuff in life but you can find kindness everywhere.
I like the railway, I like books about mental health, I like books with male protagonists, but this one didn’t work out for me.
Thank you to the publisher Chatto & Windus (an imprint of Vintage at PenguinRandomHouse) for the advance copy via NetGalley.
Train Man will be published on 4th July 2019.