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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

In the Train

Christian Oster

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To purchase In the Train

Title: In the Train
Author: Christian Oster
Genre: Novel
Written: 2002 (Eng. 2010)
Length: 148 pages
Original in: French
Availability: In the Train - US
Dans le train - Canada
Dans le train - France
  • French title: Dans le train
  • Translated by Adriana Hunter

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Our Assessment:

B : fairly effective love-tale

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Rev. of Contemp. Fiction . Spring/2003 Warren Motte

  From the Reviews:
  • "Oster plays maddeningly (and most delightfully) on those very qualities in his novel, trifling with his readerís patience, straining his readerís credibility, testing his readerís semiotic desire. He hopes that we will take Frankís quest upon ourselves, making it our own. Itís a stretch, though, as Oster himself is the first to realize." - Warren Motte, Review of Contemporary Fiction

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       In the Train is a love story: man meets and pursues woman, a relationship develops. It begins:

     One day a man of average height stood on a station platform holding a very heavy bag.
       But it's only that first image that the narrator, Frank, can present in a disembodied, third-person voice: immediately, in the next sentence, he steps forward to tell their story in the first person:
That man was me, but it was not my bag.
       Frank seems a bit adrift, letting chance take him where it will. He's only at the train station because he's bored of walking around town; here, at least, people have goals in mind, destinations to reach. When he spots the woman with the heavy bag -- Anne, who is lugging around books -- he circles her for a while before letting himself be drawn in, approaching her and asking whether he can be of any help. Once in her orbit, he finds he can't quite let go.
       Frank had no intention of going anywhere, but he decides to follow Anne, taking the same train as her. She says she's meeting her sister in Gournon, and he gets off the train there too -- and follows her to a hotel. He becomes more insistent in his pursuit, but it's not as simple as them merely finding each other: Anne carries considerable baggage with her (not just that symbolical bag of books), and has her own relationship-issues. And Frank isn't certain of what he hopes for or expects in any case:
     I'd sort of forgotten what was the point. But it wasn't necessarily to see her, not for me, not now. I wanted to keep the connection, that was all. To say see you, like on the platform, that yes.
       Frank provides a detailed record of events, and his shifting feelings in this initial weekend-long ebb and flow of getting to know one another and coming closer, which comes with both moments of overwhelming desire and of repulsion and doubt. Some of what happens certainly doesn't make for promising budding romance -- there's the man Anne actually came to Gournon to see, for one --, but Anne leads on and Frank follows (and they take the train further ...), and the pull each exerts on the other seems to strengthen.
       Anne is a reader while Frank repeatedly notes that he is not, but given how her books (and everything else) is weighing her down ("I'm getting more and more baggage, in life" she complains to him, "I feel overburdened. I'm tired, Frank") the unencumbered (and un-literary) Frank seems like he might have something to offer her.
       He remains unsure of quite what's happening, or how to act, but he presses (or drifts) on. And he does have the right general ideas:
I think that's it. I wanted to show her that life is flawed, sometimes. Or to remind her that it is. For her to get that into her head.
       Clearly taken by Anne from the beginning, Frank's image of her nevertheless changes over the course of their time together. Not everything he discovers is pleasant, but Oster does a particularly good job of describing how both adapt to each other, strangers becoming a couple.
       Closely observed, In the Train is a fine though very self-centered anatomy of love. For better and worse -- in its probing attention to detail, how slowly and cautiously it unfolds, its gentle humor, and Frank's own uncertainty -- it is also very French (of the rather older school); one suspects any American version of the same story would have been much louder -- and more loudly emotional.

- M.A.Orthofer, 11 February 2010

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In the Train: Reviews: Other books by Christian Oster under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of French literature

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About the Author:

       French author Christian Oster was born in 1949.

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