This is a book about nothing less than life itself. Each of us gets one train, with its own unique series of carriages and components, going through our own unique landscape, stuck with our fellow passengers, only a few of whom we get to choose.
Author: Helen Oyeyemi
Finished on: 30 June 2021
Where did I get this book: A kindle read
There’s something magical and full of possibility about a train journey. And there’s definitely something magical about a book about a train journey. From Murder on the Orient Express to From Russia with Love, the combination of claustrophobic confinement while travelling through different landscapes, along with close prolonged proximity to other people, makes for a compelling setting that many authors have exploited to great effect.
And Peaces is a book about a train journey by Helen Oyeyemi. One of the cleverest, funniest and most engrossing writers around. Hold my calls. Barricade the doors. Get kettle on.
Peaces tells the story of hypnotist Otto Shin, who’s off on a non-honeymoon honeymoon with his lover Xavier – a long-distance train ride through Europe gifted to them by Xavier’s wealthy aunt. Being an Oyeyemi story, though, things are far from straightforward. The route and destination are shrouded in mystery, and the train itself is formed of a series of gloriously weird and wonderful carriages, from a sauna to a gallery to a library. The Hope Valley line to Manchester Piccadilly, this is not.
It turns out the only other passenger is a lady called Ava Kapoor, a mysterious figure who’ll shortly inherit a vast fortune when she turns 30, if she can prove she’s sane.
As Ava, Otto and Xavier – and the train’s driver and engineer – dance around each other in a series of intriguing interactions, they learn more about how each of them came to be on the train. They have more in common than they first thought and one strand of narrative uncovers what has brought our cast together.
This is, unusually for Oyeyemi, a story about romantic love. Over the course of the book, Otto and Xavier explore the life and previous loves that have brought them to this point and to each other. While these characters do have the delicious trademark Oyeyemi insouciance, there is also a less familiar insecurity, the anxieties that can come with falling in love.
Ultimately, though, this is a book about nothing less than life itself. Each of us gets one train, with its own unique series of carriages and components, going through our own unique landscape, stuck with our fellow passengers, only a few of whom we get to choose. So much of what makes a good life is in our own perception, what we see and how see it – and Peaces contains insight upon insight on this.
This is a delight of a book – an absolute joy, entertaining from start to finish. I’m a bit of an Oyeyemi fan (this is the writer that, when I was going to meet her on a retreat, my daughter had to give me a stern pep talk: “It’s okay to say ‘I love your writing; it’s not okay to say ‘I love you.’”) and Peaces is up there with the very best of her work.