"Stamboul Train" by Graham Green (1932)
"'I dance. I'm off to Constantinople. A girl's ill in an English show there.' For a moment with the girl's hand in hers Mabel Warren felt flustered with a longing to be generous in an absurd obvious way. Why not give up the hope of keeping Janet Pardoe and invite the girl to break her contract and take Janet's place as her paid companion? 'You are so pretty,' she said aloud."
Graham Greene has been discussed here a lot, so I'll leave off the biographical details. My thoughts on his Journey Without Maps are here, and my thoughts on his A Burnt-Out Case are here. Many of his other books have been discussed in other entries, but I'll be damned if I can remember what those entries are.
...and to eliminate a lot of confusion, "Stamboul" in the title refers to Istanbul, also known as Constantinople. Thus the "Stamboul train" is none other than the famous Orient Express, which was this book's alternate title in the States. The success of Orient Express lead to an American film of the same name, and also to a British television series which used the American title. Greene hated both filmed versions of his story, and given the book's frankly homosexual characters this fact is not surprising.
In Stamboul Train several passengers aboard the Orient Express travel to Constantinople. There's an enigmatic doctor bent on restoring his reputation. There's a chorus girl bound for parts unknown. There's a Jewish merchant bent on rising above his station. Greene describes each of these characters in meticulous detail, and their individual moral failings nicely overlap as the story progresses.
It's one of Greene's earlier efforts, and doesn't quite exhibit the steady hand evident in later novels. It's good, yes, but the earlier parts of the book definitely put style over substance. By the second half it hits its stride and manages to arrive and a satisfying conclusion, but the first half is a bit of a mess.
I'd recommend this book, but only if you've read Greene's more famous novels. I like the way the author probes his characters' moral failings, and even if the ending doesn't quite satisfy it's still an engaging story.
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