Train Man

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 03 Aug 2019

Member Reviews

i am more familiar with Andy Mulligan from his children's fiction.

I had hoped that this would be "uplit" and be rather like Eleanor Oliphant. However I am not finding this yet.

So far the main character is spending time on various trains and train platforms as he makes his way to Crewe to commit suicide on the railway (although not the electrified lines because he knows the physical results of this)
As he sits on trains/seats at platforms we get his back story which seems very bleak. it involves child abuse, mental illness, workplace bullying, failed relationships, depression etc.

Another story strand involving a bereaved woman is also introduced and maybe further down the line (excuse the pun) their stories will cross.
Working also as a counsellor  Michael's story has a familiarity.  As a depiction of mental illness it's spot on. However unlike Eleanor Oliphant it seems to lack humour. Maybe the humour is the sort of cringey humour you get watching Ricky Gervais in the Office or Frank Spencer but I am sorry that I do not respond to that..

As a consequence I am not willing to expend my precious reading time on a book that seems to offer me nothing special, although of course other readers (particularly commuters?) may love this book..

At the very least it makes you eye fellow passengers with more curiosity and wonder what their stories are?
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Based on the published premise of this book, I think when I picked it up I must have been in quite a sentimental frame of mind.  This is not what I would normally read.  It is not that I don’t appreciate ‘life-affirming’ novels (if that is a category) but I have in the past found them a little twee and one-dimensional.  We know that there is a very defined trajectory and destination, this is obvious from the start.  The story may be interesting, affecting and genuinely moving at times and indeed there may be certain surprises along the way, but we all know the final terminus to which we are heading and the approximate route we will take to get there.  ‘Train Man’ falls squarely into the life-affirming novel category but it is one of the better ones.  

The biggest difficulty I had with the book was not the sentimentality that I thought I would have a problem with but that much of the novel has a certain stream of consciousness feel.  Michael the main character thinks back on his life and considers events that have proved significant and reimagines what could have been done differently.  This can be illuminating and helps develop the characters but it frequently simply becomes tedious.

That being said, there is much to be praised both in terms of the quality of the storytelling and the real value of the main character’s story – these are tough, important and rarely broached subjects which are sensitively and considerately handled.  So although this is a story we have definitely heard before, it was genuinely moving and uplifting in parts and did even bring a tear to my eye on occasion.  Ultimately, the serious subjects covered and the skill with which this is handled add enough to make this version of the story a version that is worth the telling.

[Copy provided by NetGalley]
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Many of us have probably had the experience of travelling by train and idly wondering about our fellow passengers: where are they going, what's the purpose of their journey? We may also have had the experience of being drawn into polite, inconsequential conversations with fellow travellers or of watching passengers struggle with luggage, unpack and repack belongings, and so on. Michael's journey, and those of the other characters in the book, is punctuated by just such encounters.

In Michael's case they prompt him to construct elaborate and often farfetched stories about the people he meets; perhaps they might become friends or be present at momentous moments in each other's lives. In fact, Michael's thoughts often involve him creating fictional versions of his own life in which he is a much more successful, better version of himself. In reality he's something of a loner who tends to be overly intolerant of petty bureaucracy and breaches of rules by others when his own life, arguably, is littered with more significant failings. This might make him a slightly irritating or unsympathetic character was it not for what the reader gradually learns about his traumatic past.

The sudden switches between Michael's journey, his memories and the stories of the other characters do require a degree of alertness on the part of the reader. If you like, the same alertness required to control the trains arriving and departing at a busy railway junction.

Despite Michael's careful planning of his intended journey, in the end it's a decision taken on impulse that changes everything for him, and for the reader as well. What initially seemed a quite dark story takes on an altogether different hue.

Train Man is a thought-provoking story about chance encounters, missed opportunities, the kindness of strangers and why, sometimes, living in the moment is enough.
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Not my cup of tea. I didn't connect to the characters and sometimes found the style of writing a bit confusing.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
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‘But that’s who I am – that’s me. That’s why I had nowhere to go, and why… I was going nowhere.’

Michael MacMillan is a 56-year old man who arrives at his local train station to make an important journey. Armed with a juice carton filled with whisky, and with a bank card safely stored inside one of his shoes for identification, he is setting off for an important rendezvous with a particular train at Crewe – the one he intends to walk out in front of to end his life. With three failed relationships behind him, a series of disastrous jobs that have resulted in disciplinary investigations, and a whole pile of financial problems, what has he got left to live for?

Maria is a 30-something Filipino who has three jobs, a husband in the UAE, and six children back home being looked after by her mother. She is taking a precious couple of days to travel to climb Higher Lee Ridge, recommended to her by one of her patients in the hospice where she works.

Ayesha is travelling back to the family home carrying her brother’s guitar, which is to be given to a friend of the family. Her brother Kristin died three years ago, aged just thirteen.

Morris is a street hustler, a sixteen-year old kid turning tricks for cash and desperate. His contacts send him from one place to another and he ends up being beaten up and left without any money to travel home.

Andrew Mulligan’s novel takes these characters and weaves a story of connections and random meetings that, in its way, is a rail trip across contemporary Britain. Along the way we meet others who interact, however briefly, with one or more of these four. As Michael’s back story slowly reveals itself, we get a picture of a very damaged man, whose inability to commit to relationships and responsibility stem from childhood trauma. This is a story of trying to find redemption in the darkest places, of the simple random acts of kindness that bond us together as humans, and the pleasure – indeed the need – to just speak to a stranger. Michael’s journey gets ever more complicated, as he misses connections and gets further and further from his goal. There is a certain amount of black humour as his trip becomes something of a journey out of Dante or Bunyan, and he is prone to drifting in and out of memories as his life plays itself out along the way. He sees figures from his childhood where they are not, he imagines possible conversations that he could have with the people he meets, and he slowly gets more and more sozzled as he works his way through his whisky. 

This is a slow-burner, but it is a journey worth making, and as the various different strands of the book join together you get a sense of just how connected we all are, somehow. The ‘themes’ are not shoved in your face, but as we slowly get to learn more about Michael, he turns from being a rather pathetic figure into a sympathetic, emotionally raw character. As he and Maria climb the ascent of Higher Lee Ridge together, he is forced to confront his demons amidst the rain and wind of a storm. OK, that’s a bit clichéd, and the ending is perhaps tied up a little too neatly, but this is a book with a generous heart and a simple message to all of us: talk to strangers on the train or the bus, carry out some random act of kindness, because you never know what effect it might have. Heart-warming and genuine, I definitely recommend this.

(With thanks to the publisher and NetGalley for an ARC of this title.)
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Unfortunately I couldn't get into this book at all, it seemed quite rambling and I struggled to find a narrative. I notice the author said he originally wrote it for radio and with different voices it may have worked better.
Thank you to netgalley and Random house for an advance copy of this book.
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Michael has decided that today he will take his own life. Maria is working three jobs and sending money home to her family. They are two strangers, with little in common, whose paths meet on this day. There is a lot of darkness in this book before we reach for the light. Michael, in particular, is haunted by his past. But it is only at the end of the readers journey that we can appreciate the qualities of this book and how random everything can be and that we can find hope even at the darkest times. I'm very glad that I've read this book.
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Too dark and dismal to hold much entertainment for me. Seemed mixed up and disjointed which I guess only reflected the state of mind.
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I was really looking forward to reading this. I had expectations of it being bleak, but it didn’t grab me sadly. It felt too disconnected and rambled too much for me to get involved, and I struggled to keep reading. Not one for me.
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Quite possibly the bleakest, most emotionally gruelling rail journey I have ever experienced. 

This is the story of Michael as he embarks on the biggest decision of his life, which tragically involves taking a mentally exhausting, one way trip toward what will be his final destination.

On route he reflects upon all the personal, family and working relationships that chronically affect him, including the ghost of a harrowing childhood experience that has haunted him ever since.  

These events have forced him to become his own worst critic. As a result he discourages himself from prolonging any long-lasting connections, has been fired from his job, and is unable to see his worth.  But fleeting exchanges with a few random strangers renews his perspective, and although their own lives may be ‘going off the rails’ they become a brief source of light on the darkest of days. 

I feel truly awful for saying this but Michael’s determination to end his futility felt like an eternity, especially as some of the scenes he shares are difficult to digest.  Hand on heart, this is a book I could only recommend to readers with an unshakable, upbeat personality.
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I felt this book ended up being rambling and disjointed. I thought though that the idea of the story was good.

Thank you to Netgalley for my copy.
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You know sometimes a book needs to read to the end. I can understand why others have bailed out early and given poor reviews.
The start of the book is very dark and morose. Indeed it is a reflection of the state of mind of the central character, Michael. He is reduced to train man perhaps because of his purpose in catching a train to Crewe and his epitaph.
He is not in a good place but despite it all he has some empathy for others and his weaknesses in his relationships. It is quite chilling as he talks about his preparations to kill himself, visualises the act while being unable to control other thoughts. Ideas of self-worth and broken dreams, strained relationships and hints of an unhealthy sex life and possible abuse asa child. After a while other characters making different journeys are introduced that demonstrate alternative reasons for travel but also a burden of circumstances and opportunity.
This is a book that you have to persevere with to gain any benefit and reap the reward of fine writing and social comment.
It presents a number of issues incredibly well in such a left field way they hit home as your attention was elsewhere. It shows the problems associated with train travel and the difficulty of starting up a conversation with a random fellow traveller.
It is a story that pans out to share great sadness and deep joy. Moments of tearfulness and spontaneous laughter. The depravity of some people and the breadth and depth of human endurance. How a person can think that suicide is their only choice left and how talking sometimes is all that is needed. We are presented with a cross-section of society and in time we see these as well drawn characters. The writing is not that of an Alan Bennett but it resonates with me like some of his works or other playwrights. The words are most important aspect of this story.
I loved the constant harkening back to earlier thoughts and the references to early situations or glimpses into Michael’s life. I loved his honesty, especially when he faced up to the fraud he believes he has become.
It is a telling insight into a troubled psyche with as much uncertainty as there is clarity; where darkness threatens to conceal any speck of light or hint of a new day. 
I loved they piece as a whole, the sense of a journey it allowed me to share and the range of emotions that were drawn from me.
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Wanders and meanders all over the place jumping from suicidal and dark sexual thoughts to train station announcements. If there was a plot it got lost
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This book deals so well with the topic of mental health in such a delicate way. It is a bit of a mixed bag offers so much but sadly fails in other ways.
Thank you to both NetGalley and Chatto and Windus for my eARC in exchange for my honest unbiased review.
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An unusual story that is well written. Unfortunately it becomes very repetitive and rambling as the story seems to drag on to the finale.
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I was looking forward to reading this book. A man so full of despair that he feels his only option is to take his own life. With mental health being such an important subject, I hoped this book would take the opportunity to raise awareness and possibly highlight the desperation many people feel in this situation.

I feel the author captured many of michael’s inner feelings and insecurities. The path that leads Michael to wanting to end his life. However, as others have said, it’s a difficult read. Mental health and planning suicide are not easy things to read about, nor is it a funny or lighthearted subject. This made the book difficult to warm to. 

I believe the author treated the storyline with respect, but i struggled to bond with the book.
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A very mixed bag of ramblings, conversations and observations. The main character, Micheal, sees no way out from the troubles of his life apart from suicide. He embarks on a journey through England via trains, changing his mind of what to do and where to go along the way. At times this book gets confusing between present day conversations and ramblings from the past.  It is a slow read at times but is also an emotional and poignant reminder that life is not always as it seems.
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This is a very mixed bag of a book. I like the fact that it deals with mental health issues so sensitively. The protagonist, Michael is a fifty something man who is on his way to jump under a train. His life is in pieces, Over and over again he has failed at relationships and at jobs. Now he has no job and has randomly broken off his engagement with the latest woman in his life. Unopened letters lie piled up in his flat, mostly bills and he feels there is no way out. On his journey he ruminates about his life. This stream of consciousness is well done in parts but in others becomes confusing as the past and present collide. Add to this the fact that other characters' viewpoints are included and it just becomes a little difficult to follow at times. The only bit that is easy to follow is his interaction with one of these characters, Maria, and the ensuing resolution which didn't seem believable to me. I thought that at times the insights into his life were very painful. Here we have a man who is socially inept, whose friends don't really understand him and whose bosses almost bully him. It was poignant to read at the end that the author had been driven to write this after the death of a friend who had killed himself on a railway line.

All in all, a difficult book which deals with the subject of suicide with sensitivity. But I wasn't sure that the addition of the other characters added much to the book. Thanks to NetGalley and the publishers for the ARC.
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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.

[NB. This review will be published on my blog on 24th June]
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I can enjoy a book that lacks narrative drive, provided it is well written, and I can enjoy a book that's not well written if it has plenty of narrative drive. Sadly, Train Man missed the mark on both counts. The English is fine, but nothing like good enough to be enjoyed for its own sake. The narrative pace was far too slow. Too many words described the protagonist's meandering, mundane observations. A paragraph on peeling tangerines-  another about the fate of his duvet. I suppose Andrew was trying to explore the mind of an obsessive outsider, and perhaps his explorations were thorough and realistic, but I found it too humdrum to sustain my interest..
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