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David, Kay, Andrew, and Hugh happen to share a compartment on a London bound train from Edinburgh."This is the story of four people, all strangers to one another, who met on that train, and of how love touched their lives, in very different ways."
All the four people have stories inside of them, and happen to relate them, or think about them during the journey. Andrew worked as an intern in an art gallery and met Hermione at work. He fell in love with her and his attempts to woo her makes one of the stories."It leaves Edinburgh behind it and begins its journey over the rich farmland of East Lothian. Then there is a coast, that brings the sight of cliffs and sea-birds; and the North Sea which was still and smooth that day under the clear morning light."
Hugh has a love story too. He once got down at a wrong station and ran into a lovely young girl whom he befriended and later had an affair with. All was going well until he learned some intriguing details about her past. Can he trust her?
David has a secret love from his past. He once fell in love with a boy who visited the little place his family went to for summer, in Maine. Bruce was also holidaying in that place, he lived in Princeton where his father taught. A friendship struck up between the two, but David felt an excitement that was more than friendship. He knew he had to keep his feelings in check always. Although they do spend time together, and Bruce never even learned what he felt like, this secret love remained with David all his life. While Andrew is relating his love story, David thinks back upon his secret summer love.
Kay's father came from a poor family in Scotland. He emigrated to Australia to make something of his life. He eventually worked for a railroad in a little place near Adelaide and struck up a friendship with a young woman via letters. Did this pen-friendship turn into something stronger or did it die away?
All the stories are connected to railways in some manner. The stories are related during a train journey as well. Alexander McCall Smith manages to weave in references to Art and Philosophy in this book as well. Andrew works in an art gallery, as his story is the longest of the lot, we get to hear quite a bit about paintings. My beloved series by the same author, the Sunday Philosophy Club series also referenced Art and Philosophy, as the main character in them, Isabel Dalhousie, is a philosopher who also collects Art..
The novel manages to be a light read, with great insights into the minds of its characters and life in general. The prose is beautiful, as you can see from the two examples I have quoted I am tempted to quote one more passage, here goes.
"There were all these places where the houses were not made of neat white board and shingle; where there was colour and movement and danger. There was no danger in that small town, where people's lives led neatly and correctly to the grave; where the water came dosed with chemicals and the food was cleanly wrapped. He wanted to go somewhere else."