Monday, October 6, 2008

Review: A puzzle, but the pieces fit

by Melody Tan

Nemesis Train could simply have been a notebook filled with the journey of the author’s ponderings and explorations of various people’s lives. But what makes it a compelling read is the fact that the reader not only joins the ride as a mere commuter, but becomes a participant in a very real way as well.

This is not a book in the old-fashioned sense of the word, as chapters often appear unstructured and the flow of the book will take most readers by surprise. However, like Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller, readers of Nemesis Train will find themselves unwittingly and inexplicably drawn into a story that makes them want to find out more, if only to discover how all the characters fit into the story.

Nemesis Train provokes thought and, more often, encourages the reader to ask questions rather than provides any real answers. Brown chooses to dwell deep in the thought processes of the characters, paying a lot of attention to their state of mind and what spurs them to do what they do.

Brown has a real talent in seeing details that may have been missed by most writers, and certainly by people going about their normal everyday life. Because he takes the time to pause and study the surroundings, he succeeds in painting a clear and real picture in the mind’s eye. The reader is drawn into the world that Brown has created and becomes a part of the book. The interesting, and sometimes quirky descriptions are also often unique and unexpected.

There is often an overarching sense of loss and loneliness present in the book, a sense that life may be a waste of time without any real meaning. However, there are also rare glimpses of wry humour and, through the character Jed Hill, the reader sees hope.

A book that makes a strong statement against war and the detrimental impact it has on war veterans and perhaps the world in general, it also offers grace and understanding to all those involved. But perhaps, it also offers these gifts to everybody, encouraging patience and kindness to those we come in contact with.

And what makes Nemesis Train a rare treasure is the fact that the surprise ending not only helps everything fall into place for the reader, it makes you want to go back to the platform and board the train all over again with your newfound piece of puzzle.

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