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Night Train David Quantick Main

"Night Train" Book Review

Written by Tony Jones

Published by Titan Books

night train david quantick poster large

Written by David Quantick
2020, 400 pages, Fiction
Released on 7th July 2020


Night Train is David Quantick’s fourth novel since 2016 and his move into fiction is a notable change of literary direction, as he is better known as a journalist and screenwriter whose credits include winning at Emmy in 2015 for Veep. Earlier highlights include writing for the famous, but sadly now defunct, alternative British music magazine NME and authoring a biography on the punk band The Clash. However, the reason I hold Quantick in such high esteem relates one of his minor projects, which is very close to my heart. In 2007 he produced a BBC radio show called Reality is an Illusion Caused by a Lack of NF Simpson, a documentary about an obscure but very influential absurdist British playwright. I was a massive fan of NF Simpson and was fortunate to meet the great man at an early reading of his final play at the Royal Court Theatre in London.  For a time, I corresponded with Simpson and even attended the tribute at the same theatre after his death in 2011. Simpson flew under the literary radar and few ever turned the spotlight in his direction, except David Quantick.

Simpson was an absolute master of the absurd and I have a feeling he might rather have enjoyed Night Train, as there is plenty of absurdity on offer in this oddball novel. It is one of those books which will most likely be labelled ‘high concept’ and although it is likely to split the critics, it kept me entertained, but I am certain others will find it frustrating. Although it features elements of horror, it also has elements of science fiction, thriller, and dystopian fiction. In parts, Night Train is also very funny, but again, the sly humour may pass many readers by.

Appropriately, for a novel called Night Train, the whole 400 pages is one long journey and apart from a few interludes is set entirely on the train. A very, very, long train. I cannot stress how long this train is, as the three main characters spend much of the 400 pages journeying along it, attempting to reach the driver. I kept on expecting this concept to become tiresome, but even though the action remains one paced, Quantick maintained my interest and I was 100% invested in unravelling what the hell was going on. That is one of the most entertaining aspects of the story, which reveals its secrets very slowly and along the way keeps throwing curveballs, many of which do not make a lot of sense. For example, monsters drop out of the ceiling or tiny packages that can turn the human body to sludge are ingested.

Night Train opens with a woman waking up on a moving train and has no memory of who she is, how she got there or the reason she is there. In the same carriage there are fifteen dead people she does not recognise. Seeking answers, she decides to start moving up the train. It takes a while for the reader to figure out what is going on, so I would suggest not bothering trying to puzzle out the plot, but just go with the flow with the woman who believes her name is Garland. Rest assured, she is even more confused than the reader.

Soon Garland meets Banks, who reasons he has been on the train for some time; there is no night and day, the train never stops, he never sees any other passengers and believes he has been given a complete face transplant. Although neither of them have any memories, they have the vaguest of recollections from whatever happened before their arrival on the train. Soon they meet a third person, a young woman called Poppy, and that is when the real fun starts as they continue to travel up the incredibly long train.

As the three struggled along the train, I had a feeling that this novel would rise or fall depending on the quality of the ending. A misfire would leave readers feeling cheated and taint the slow build-up which precedes it, but Quantick pulled it off, blending bizarre science fiction with a dash of George Orwellian-style dystopia. I also enjoyed the interludes which involve the strange technical world of games, puzzles and computers in a setting that reminded me of an alternative reality Bletchley Park, full of genius codebreakers.

David Quantick obviously enjoyed leading the reader down the train tracks with this surreal and very clever read. Setting a novel entirely on a train is difficult to pull off, but there is enough imagination in the breadcrumbs dropped along the way to keep the reader invested and keen to press onto the next chapter. I am not sure whether I entirely understood everything in this quirky thriller, but then again, I am not sure whether I was supposed to. If you are a fan of cryptic science fiction and do not mind being for the most part kept in the dark then consider buying a ticket for the Night Train. I would not bother with a return ticket, as there is a good chance your initial journey might end both badly and prematurely!


Overall: 4 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
Tony Jones
Author: Tony Jones
Staff Reviewer - UK
Such is Tony’s love of books, he has spent well over twenty years working as a school librarian where he is paid to talk to kids about horror. He is a Scotsman in exile who has lived in London for over two decades and credits discovering SE Hinton and Robert Cormier as a 13-year-old for his huge appetite for books. Tony previously spent five years writing The Greatest Scrum That Ever Was, a history book very few people bought. In the past he has written for Horror Novel Reviews and is a regular contributor to The Ginger Nuts of Horror website, often specialising in YA horror.
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