Today’s entry appeared on the Guardian’s book pages – after reading the new Paula Hawkins thriller The Girl on a Train (blogpost to follow soon) I got to thinking about why the setup is so intriguing. The starting point is that a young woman gets the same train every day, and watches out for a house that backs on to the line. She imagines a life for the happy, good-looking couple in their garden, and looks for them obsessively twice a day, there and back. But what she sees begins to make her fear that something is going wrong.
look out the train window and what do you see….?
The most famous example is perhaps Agatha Christie’s 4.50 from Paddington – actually a double-train moment. Two trains moving in the same direction briefly overlap – and Mrs McGillicuddy witnesses a murder on the parallel train. No one believes her, no body turns up, so her friend Miss Marple has to investigate for her. The murder is a deeply memorable moment, and once you’ve read the book, you’re always a bit nervous looking across in those seconds when two trains move together.
“It must be some curve if you can photograph the front part of the train from the back, it will look awfully dangerous.”
An earlier Christie novel, The Man in a Brown Suit, from 1924, contains a hilarious discussion of taking photos out of a train window:
I pointed out to her that no one could possibly tell it had been taken from the back of the train. She looked at me pityingly. “I shall write underneath it. ‘Taken from the train. Engine going round a curve.’”
“You could write that under any snapshot of a train.”
I think of this every time I see one of those curved-train photos, while still thrilling to the view.
The Travelling Companions by Augustus Egg
Other blog favourites mentioned include the Christmas bestseller Mystery in White by J Jefferson Farjeon – a 1937 classic book championed by my good blogfriends Martin Edwards and Curtis Evans – The Hunger Games and Sherlock Holmes.
And Lissa Evans has already mentioned to me the marvellous Saki short story, The Storyteller, and I’m sure readers will have plenty more train stories that I should have put in the piece…