Book Review: Night Trains

Night Trains:  The Rise And Fall Of The Sleeper, by Andrew Martin

This book does not really live up to its title very well.  This is not necessarily a bad thing, as the book is entertaining and personal, but sometimes an author does not do a very good job at setting the right expectations for the reader.  A reader of this book browsing it according to its title and not reading its back cover would not be properly prepared for this being the attempt of the author to relive the golden age of the sleeper car in Europe and might expect this book to be more of a scholarly discussion of the sleeper car and how it came to become less prevalent in European railroading (it is still popular in lower-speed American rail travel, which the author does not appear interested in at all) for various reasons that the author explores in the midst of his humorous and ineffectual travel.  Ultimately, this book reads like a collection of personal essays and travel essays, which are all very entertaining to read (and write), even if they are not really scholarly at all in nature.  This author, though, does not pretend to be a scholar, even if his book title would indicate a different approach than he takes.

This book is about 250 pages long and is divided into six chapters.  The introduction discusses the rise of the sleeper car and its importance to film and literature in the 20th century from such figures as Agatha Christie and Graham Greene, who wrote famous novels about the Orient Express that painted up the glamour and occasionally the danger and exoticism of such trips.  The author’s trips, on the other hand, are far more humdrum and quotidian in nature, even farcical.  The author explores the Blue Train (1), the Nordland Railway (2), the Paris-Venice (3) route, the ‘Orient Express’ to Istanbul (4), the Sud Express in Spain (5) and the Berlin Night Express (6) and finds his experience is decidedly lacking in glamour as he is sent on buses instead of trains because routes are contracting and struggles to communicate in areas where English is not spoken because apparently the author is a stereotypically monolingual Englishman.  He finds that he has reserved spots on trains that are not in fact sleepers and struggles to give privacy to others while seeking a comfortable place to travel and sleep around Europe.  Suffice it to say that this book fits well within the category of maladroit Englishmen traveling abroad.

Why would someone read a book like this?  I don’t know Andrew Martin from Adam, after all, and have no fondness of his writing in general to account for my wanting to read this.  However, it so happens that my family is looking to do some rail travel in Europe at some point relatively soonish, and so as is my fashion I enjoy reading books that relate to this subject.  And it so happens that the vanishing of the sleeper car in many routes because of high-speed rail shortening the times between cities is a very relevant aspect of our trip planning, because where there are no sleeper cars one would have to find the right cities to stop at for the night and arrange for somewhere to sleep for the night, which can be a bit of a difficulty.  My mother has her own stories of the difficulty that finding places to stay during lengthy rail journeys can present, and this book certainly adds to such concerns and will no doubt be something that we consider when it comes to looking at rail timetables and planning our own trip in detail.  So although the book was not quite what I was expecting it was definitely worthwhile.

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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