“I’m tired of being decent, of doing the right thing.”
Stamboul Train is the story of a number of individuals who are thrown together within the confines of a train journey – a microcosm, in a way – and Greene offers us a peek into the relationships that develop between the characters and the difficulty that each of the individuals has to adapt to the society they form.
It took a while to get into the story – just because every character has a story about how they came to embark on the journey on the Orient Express from Ostend to Istanbul.
At first, I thought this was going to be an easy read – because it is still an early one of Greene’s entertainments – but it soon turned out that Stamboul Train seems to mark quite a turning point in Greene’s writing:
Greene maintains his focus on the themes of individualism and social perception from a variety of angles which cannot be combined, and which – because of their incompatibility – now create a highly atmospheric state of disillusionment.
“Then the man spoke to her, and she was compelled to emerge from her hidden world and wear a pose of cheerfulness and courage.”
More importantly to my reading enjoyment, though, Stamboul Train shows a consistent use of that refined prose which only shimmered through in The Man Within:
“He saw the express in which they had travelled breaking the dark sky like a rocket. They clung to it with every stratagem in their power, leaning this way and leaning that, altering the balance now in this direction, now in that. One had to be very alive, very flexible, very opportunist. The snow on the lips had all melted and its effect was passing. Before the spill had flickered to its end, his sight had dimmed, and the great shed with its cargo of sacks floated away from him into the darkness. He had no sense that he was within it; he thought that he was left behind, watching it disappear. His mind became confused, and soon he was falling through endless space, breathless, with a windy vacancy in head and chest, because he had been unable to retain his foothold on what was sometimes a ship and at other times a comet, the world itself, or only a fast train from Ostend to Istanbul.”
3* (out of 5*)