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Wednesday, 14 February 2007

Review: The Railway Station Man, Jennifer Johnston (1984)

I had high hopes for this book after reading someone else's enthusiastic comments on a blog. I was disappointed. The prose is mechanical and the story is quite bleached of feeling by Johnston's clicking prose. You get the sense that her vision is rather restricted, and within these confines you give up on your dream of poetry. For there is none to be found here.

The attempt is made, however. The book is a cut above your run-of-the-mill romance. But the deadly brusqueness of the initial meeting of Roger Hawthorn (the railway station man) and Helen Cuffe is a clear signal (no pun intended) to greater intimacy further down the track (these railway metaphors just pour out of me!).

The narrative switches between Helen and her son, Jack, whose father was killed in a shooting incident in 1975. The Troubles. But there is no sense of the great danger inherent in them, and Helen's current slice of the Irish coast is regimentally dreary. It rains all the time.

Johnston tries to coax some poetry out of the soggy and no doubt beautiful landscape, but after a while these attempts pale before the clunking forward movement of the story, which is single-faceted. There are no complexities to trouble us, and this is disappointing.

I got this through BookMooch, and I will probably relegate it thenceward once more, as I have no intention of revisiting it again. I also found another book by Johnston at a sale in Glebe recently. I will probably give that a go at some point, although this assignation provides me with no spur to make another in the near future.

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