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Latest Review: "In the Train" by Christian Oster

The latest addition to our Reviews Section is a piece by Emily Davis on Christian Oster’s In the Train, which is translated from the French by Adriana Hunter and available from the stylish Object Press.

Emily Davis is a grad student in Literary Translation here at the University of Rochester, and is currently working on a number of projects, including a sample from Damian Tabarovsky’s Medical Autobiography. She was one of the many students in my class who loved In the Train for its creepyish humor . . . I think this book is absolutely brilliant, which is why we’re running this review more than a year after the book came out.

You know those niche documentaries about people who are really into some specialized hobby or interest—old-school arcade games, typography, central Asian throat singing? The ones that make you think: wow, these people are so kooky, they make me seem normal! and yet at the same time you can almost, in a way, see where they’re coming from? I don’t mean that you can necessarily relate to their specific interests, though naturally that is possible. For the majority of us who are neither typeface designers nor reigning Donkey Kong champions, though, what draws us to the protagonists of these films is their passion—persistent, imperfect, somehow essentially human—for their hobbies, their professions, their artistic pursuits.

In the Train is like that, in the sense that its narrator is undeniably odd and yet, despite—or maybe because of—his social ineptitude and mild-to-moderate neurosis (his characteristics and motivations are identifiably human, only taken to extremes), also strangely endearing.

Oster’s novel begins in a train station in Paris, where Frank, the narrator-protagonist, notices a woman (Anne) on the platform struggling with a heavy bag—which Frank immediately identifies as a potential premise for getting to know her. However, Frank does not operate on whim, exactly. On the surface, his actions may appear unhindered by a second thought, but the truth is that he thinks everything through and takes pains to justify (to himself, to the reader) every action that might otherwise seem out of the ordinary or socially unacceptable.

Click here to read the full piece.



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