The Cardiff-to-London train clacks and creaks across the tracks in this story where lives never stop, from death and divorce to children and marital problems. Hadley’s characters are constantly on the move, intersecting and drifting as life steamrolls forward. Roaring into King's Cross Station, the train swells up with those who are waiting as the author creates an intricate web of romantic intent while also contrasting one man’s journey into mid-life angst.
Paul, a successful writer, is lamenting the
recent peaceful death of his mother, an exceptional and unique woman thwarted only by her limited life. They were close once, but as Paul makes the appropriate funeral arrangements, he realizes he’s a bit embarrassed to have come from her working-class and industrialized roots. Although Paul leads a quiet, peaceful existence in a cottage in the picaresque Welsh countryside, married to the exotic Elise and
with two lovely daughters, he seems weighed down by discontent over the path he's traveling.
A phone call to Annalies, Paul’s first wife, sets the novel's plot in motion and accelerates Paul’s journey into confusion and malaise, and the circumstances that will determine a whole new direction
for him. Paul and Annalies are strangers, bound together by the thread of Pia, their oldest daughter.
When Annalies tells Paul that Pia has dropped out of University and disappeared, Paul’s “loop of worry” circles around and around.
Paul makes a hurried trip up to London, finding Pia squatting in a ramshackle flat in a tower block just off Pentonville Road with her new Polish boyfriend, Marek, and Marek’s sister Anna. Living in “a dream of passivity,” Pia avoids her father’s awkward questions while Paul’s absurdity at playing the part of the offended, protective father is on display in a series of uncomfortable set pieces
wherein he begins to use his daughter’s perilous situation to hide the growing problems of his own marriage.
Paul finds himself drawn farther into Pia’s improvised and reckless city life,
and we discover that Cora (Hadley’s other major personality) is somehow connected to Paul. A self-contained library worker, Cora balances her solitary nights and sodden dreams, content to run away from Robert, her husband. Still wistful for the gifts of motherhood, Cora
is the first to admit that she has been manipulating Robert and playing with his feelings. Through no fault of her own, she seems to be digging herself deeper and deeper into a lonely, dissatisfied existence.
The lesson of Hadley's novel is that life’s possibilities can change quickly. Amidst veiled golden light and pearly shadows, Paul and Cora connect in ways that shock us. On the cusp of stepping into an adventure with a fast-beating heart, Paul finds himself drawn to Cora. Cora, however, still fresh from her passionate liaison, decides to return to Cardiff,
attempting to make veiled peace with Robert. Delving deep into Paul and Cora’s moral dilemmas, Hadley reveals her characters' cumulative memories as they "thicken and deepen as time goes on, shoring them up against emptiness.”
An intelligent, thoughtful, mature story, The London Train is embedded by Paul and Cora's painful past emotional complications. Cardiff, the Welsh countryside, and London are beautifully rendered as are Hadley’s secondary characters
- Elise, Marek, Anna, and Frankie, Cora’s loyal and trusting sister-in-law. All are bound by the slenderest of threads, their private lives propelled
onward by their hopes and dreams, longings and failings.