Over the past weekend we took a mini-break to Paris, which is in theory only three hours away by high-speed train. Unfortunately a technical problem cause our train to stop a mere 10 kilometers away from the station. After much radioing and banging and conductors walking back and forth, a backup train had to come out and literally drag our train into the station, causing our arrival to delay by nearly four hours -- at three a.m. instead of the more reasonable 11 p.m. !! Seriously, I probably could have walked to the station in the time it took. Not fun.
It was especially ironic since my choice of reading material for the trip was Graham Greene's novella Orient Express. I'd chosen it because I thought it would be fun to read a book set on a train while actually riding a train. Not so funny at the time, however. Ultimately, we did have a good trip and I did enjoy the book. (I'll post photos from the mini-break later this week).
Set between the wars, Orient Express is of course about a group of disparate characters who get to know one another while on the three-day journey from Ostend, Belgium to Istanbul; ultimately, the trip changes the lives of all of them, for good and for bad. The major characters include Coral Musker, an English chorus girl; Carleton Myatt, a wealthy Jewish businessman; Dr. Richard John, a British doctor with a mysterious past; an aggressive journalist named Mabel Warren with her companion Janet Pardoe; and a German robber named Josef Grundlich.
Greene does an excellent job of showing just how a small incident can connect these people and how this will change the direction of their entire lives. Coral, the chorus girl, falls ill and Myatt gallantly offers her his first-class sleeper cabin, and he asks Dr. John to assist her. The journalist Mabel Warren had come to see Janet off for a holiday, but recognizes Dr. John, and boards the train at the last minute, hoping for a scoop that will become the story of a lifetime. Greene weaves all the characters together with a plot that doesn't seem at all contrived or forced, and the writing is really wonderful. He's really good at describing scenes and character's inner thoughts without the writing getting too flowery.
I'm counting this as my Classic Journey Narrative for the Back to the Classics Challenge.