Trains and Lovers

Trains and LoversTrains and Lovers
Alexander McCall Smith

Neat, thought David. A neat ending. In love. Out of love. A new job. Begin again. Find somebody else. But it’s not always that easy to find somebody else, and you may not want to because the one you found earlier was the person you wanted to be with. And so what did you do? You got on with your life and tried not to think too much about it. And you could develop a particular trick—a trick he had never discussed with anybody else but which worked. You took pleasure in the happiness of others. It was that simple. You may not have had what you wanted in life, but many did, and that was something to bear in mind. So I’m glad for you, Andrew, that you had that summer and that it was good for you and that you got the job you wanted.

David was my favorite character, or the one I identified most with, in Alexander McCall Smith’s Trains and Lovers. He’s a genuinely good person, which made it all the more heart wrenching to discover he did not get the life, the love, he had dreamed of. The fact that he eschews bitterness and chooses instead to enjoy the happiness of others speaks volumes about this well-drawn character.

However, something weird happened on the way to the station: David, an American, is written with a British accent. I don’t know how else to describe it. The Scottish, Australian, and English characters all seemed to speak in a way that accurately reflected their heritage. They used phraseology appropriate to their nationality. David, the American, did not. He sounded British. Example: more times than not, David ended statements with a question such as “don’t they?” or “haven’t we?” Americans are more decisive than that. We don’t seek approval from those we speak to, do we?

I’ve never read anything written by McCall Smith before, but it was easy to guess: he’s from the UK. Actually, he’s a bit more interesting than that, isn’t he? He’s from Rhodesia. He’s lived in Africa and Scotland, has got a PhD in law, and is a respected expert in medical law and bioethics. (Maybe I should read his No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. Set in Botswana!)

As you’d guess, his writing is smart. His ability to carry a thought or a theme through many chapters told from multiple viewpoints is impressive.

The premise of Trains and Lovers is intriguing. Four characters interacting, four stories not exactly intersecting but definitely informing each other. I enjoyed going back and forth, conversationally, between them, didn’t I? (You see. I’m American. I can’t even do it properly, can I?)

As a former resident of both the UK and Australia, I thoroughly enjoyed being transported back to some familiar settings. And his ability to tug at the heart strings is right on track. If you like sets of interwoven short stories, or novels told by multiple characters, this sweet little book might be for you, mightn’t it?

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