It is a chance encounter between Cora, a thirtysomething woman stuck in a childless marriage, and Paul, a twice-married father of three children with a roving eye, that pulls together the narrative threads in Tessa Hadley's fourth novel. Until this meeting, The London Train runs on separate tracks: its characters are bound by a common sense of dissatisfaction with the stifling circumstances of their lives, but they move in different spheres.
Paul has the big house in the country, the attractive wife, the two adorable young children. Yet when his grown-up daughter from a previous marriage disappears, resurfacing pregnant and shacked up in London with a shady Polish partner, he is forced to re-evaluate his life.
Inevitably, he gravitates towards this bubbling crisis in the capital. Cora, meanwhile, is heading in the other direction, fleeing her London home and her marriage. Their trajectories converge, with consequences both predictable and otherwise. Indeed, Hadley ties up the loose ends with a finale that is as surprising as a British commuter train arriving at its destination on time.