Welcome to the nbmagazine.co.uk stop on the blog tour for Train Man by Andrew Mulligan!

Here’s a little info about the book:

Michael is a broken man. He’s waiting for the 09.46 to Gloucester, so as to reach Crewe for 11.22: the platforms are long at Crewe, and he can walk easily into the path of a high-speed train to London. He’s planned it all: a net of tangerines (for when the refreshments trolley is cancelled), and a juice carton, full of neat whisky. To make identification swift, he has taped his last credit card to the inside of his shoe.

What Michael hasn’t factored in is a twelve-minute delay, which risks him missing his connection, and making new ones. He longs to silence the voices in his own head: ex-girlfriends, colleagues, and the memories from his schooldays, decades old. They all torment him. What Michael needs is somebody to listen.

A last, lonely journey becomes a lesson in the power of human connection, proving that no matter how bad things seem, it’s never too late to get back on track.

Journeys intersect. People find hope when and where they least expect it. A missed connection needn’t be a disaster: it could just save your life.

And about author Andrew Mulligan:

Andrew Mulligan was born in 1962 and brought up in London. He worked as a theatre director for ten years before travels in Asia prompted him to retrain as a teacher. Having taught in India, Brazil, Vietnam and the Philippines he returned to the UK and now writes full time. He is best known as a children’s author; his novel Trash (2010) has been published in thirty-two languages. He also writes radio plays and film scripts. Train Man is his first adult novel.

And here’s Paul Burke’s review of Train Man:

This is a novel born out of a personal tragedy for author Andrew Mulligan. An old friend of his killed himself by committing suicide on a railway line years ago. Train Man is inspired by that loss, but to be clear it is a fiction and, fortunately, like all really good fiction it carries an emotional truth. Mulligan has drawn on the natural human reaction to question what happened and to understand the motives behind someone taking their own life. But this work is also reflective of a more subversive question, one that also niggles away at the survivors of a suicide – the desire to know if things could have been different – if some detail, some divergence in life, might have prevented the tragedy from ever happening. Train Man is an exploration of that ‘what if?’ Michael has decided to end his life, he has picked the place and the time, he is on his way: can a moment, such as missing a train leading to a chance meeting, change that tragic ending?

I have to confess I was a little worried before reading this novel that it might be shallow, maybe even schmaltzy. The tone is relatively light but this story has gravitas. So my fear was put to bed very early on, this is a complex psychological tale, initially puzzling actions make sense as motives click into place, this is a rounded and fulsome portrait of a man who has reached the end of his tether and has resigned himself to ending his life. The impact of the hopeful ending does not water down the seriousness of his situation. Neither serendipity nor rose tinted spectacles afflict the ending of Michael’s tale. This is a warm but plausible story.

Train Man is a deeply compassionate book and ultimately it’s an uplifting read. It is also a convincing examination of grief and loss, of mental well being, damaged souls, loneliness and companionship. This is Michael’s story but Ayesha and Maria add to the depth of the tale. We meet many characters, see how issues in life can be lightly worn or present as the weight of the world. There are several themes but if Train Man has one message it’s that we need to connect. To talk, to feel, both pain and happiness, to share with each other, with those around us.

Michael has planned this to the last detail, like a military operation. He has to be in Crewe by 14.41 so it’s the 9.46 from Southampton to start his journey. Unless the train has the commuter carriages, they’re less comfortable, and you can’t get refreshments on board, in that case he’ll take the 10.13. As he’s waiting Michael talks to the woman on his bench next to him, she’s going to Cheltenham to see her daughter, she doesn’t really want to chat, she puts in ear plugs. Michael is left alone with his thoughts; he has left Amy, just as they were about to be married:

‘I just can’t do it,’ he said. ‘I’m sorry.’
‘Yes. So terribly, terribly sorry.’

Michael has been living a lie, he lost his job, and lied about resigning, he buried his head in the sand but finally things have caught up with him. He was in a loveless relationship, in debt and about to lose his flat and yet you sense there is something more, something underlying this that Michael is not yet revealing. He’s lonely, he even writes letters of complaint about the trains just to be in contact with others. He has stuffed a credit card in his shoe:

‘They have to know your name, just to make the last phase is as smooth as a last phase can be. amazingly he has a funeral plan. . .’

The 9.46 is late and it’s the commuter type so he decides to wait for the 10.13. Michael replays scenes from his life in his head, imagines telling the truth but can’t bring himself to be so open with people.

While Michael is heading north, Ayesha is coming south. She is on her way to Preston, she has a guitar case with her but she doesn’t play, it belonged to her brother. She is joined in the carriage by Paul, who is off to the retreat in Windermere, and a woman from the Philippines who leaves her bag as she gets off thinking she is on the wrong train (her passport, visa and money are all in it). Morris has missed his meetings with Keenan somehow and now he’s on his own, he has no money and no ticket.

The passengers are destined to meet, destined to change each others lives.

Train Man is a poignant tale of loneliness. One decision (‘for the want of a nail . . .’) prevents Michael catching the train that would have him heading to his suicide. So now instead of people asking in the aftermath: Why? Michael may finally get the chance to articulate what brought him to this.

I may have made Train Man sound a bit heavy, emotionally intense, but in fact it’s lightly written and well crafted. There is a lot of charm in the blips in their journeys that bring the characters together. It’s a cathartic read that relies on serendipity but the happy coincidences are not daft and there is nothing mawkish here, these are real characters and emotions. It’s a read that builds, it’s takes a while to get the full picture in your mind but it’s worth the effort.

There is something fascinating about meeting strangers. A long time ago at Salisbury station I met a woman and our relationship lasted two years, the connection was a timetable query and that led to coffee. It had never happened before nor since but perhaps it’s not so unusual. I wasn’t at a particular crossroads in life, certainly not heading for the end of the line as Michael is in Train Man, but it did change the direction I was going in.

You may look at a train timetable slightly differently after reading this novel. Or maybe pay attention to the person sitting next to you on the train.

Paul Burke 4/5

Train Man by Andrew Mulligan
Chatto & Windus 9781784742713 hbk Jul 2019