I wasn’t familiar with Graham Greene until about a year ago when I came across several of his books at Nijinski, my favorite secondhand bookstore in Brussels.
My first book by Greene is a 1983 copy of “Stamboul Train” that was published by Penguin Books. I chose it partly because I like the cover artwork by Paul Hogarth, and who can resist a thriller set on a train!
First published in 1932, this was Greene’s first “entertainment” – a category that he created to distinguish from his other more serious works. It was indeed entertaining, starting with a murderer who snuck onto the train, setting into motion a series of events starring a colourful cast.
In my last post, I wrote about travelling through time and space through photographs.
That was what I felt when I first read Stamboul Train. This book captured my imagination from the get-go. For the most part, Greene doesn’t say much about the external environment, focusing instead on the interactions within the train cars.
The result: A suspenseful atmosphere layered with issues such as communism, anti-semitism and lesbianism. This, being a thriller, also has a heady dose of sex and betrayal.
I particularly enjoyed his descriptions about dining in the restaurant carriage, which seems like something from a bygone era. If you know of any trains that still operate a proper dining car, preferably within an affordable budget, please let me know 🙂
Today, I was making notes about the book at Brasserie Verschueren. This is one of the nicer brasseries around Parvis de St. Gilles and has a simple, but lovely Art Deco interior. I wonder if the economy section of the train in Greene’s book might have had a similar cosy ambiance?
Did you know?
While Stamboul Train was originally published as “Orient Express” in the United States, the story is in fact set on the Oostende-Vienna Orient Express, a route that starts in Ostend, a Flemish city on the Belgian coast. Running three times a week, this train passed through cities such as Brussels and Cologne, before combining with the actual Orient Express near Vienna or the luxurious Simplon Orient Express after Belgrade to continue on to Istanbul.
Especially for train lovers
To mark the 130th anniversary of the Orient Express route, SNCF (France’s national railway company) and the Arab World Institute have curated an exhibition in Paris.
The “Il était une fois l’Orient Express” (“Once Upon a Time on the Orient Express”) exhibition features three train cars with styled interiors to recreate the elegance, romance and glamour of train travel during those days.
I love the microsite that has been specially created for this exhibition!
Through a series of beautifully created videos, a conductor of the Orient Express narrates his journey from Paris to Istanbul, before taking the Taurus Express to Cairo. Even if you do not understand French, it is worth watching to see the historic pictures and video footage in some of these destinations. It’s been a while since I’ve had goosebumps from watching publicity materials!
For more information, see the reviews on CNN and Daily Beast, or listen to FranceInfo (in French).
If you can’t make it to Paris, here are some taken at the exhibition by a Paris-based couple, Mathias and Anne Laure. Between the two of them, they often post photographs of interesting and beautiful places that they have visited, each presenting his or own perspective.
I’ve not been to the exhibition yet but I plan to do so before it ends on 31 August 2014!
14 replies on “Stamboul Train by Graham Greene + Orient Express”
I love trains. I live in an island with no trains so trains for me are a very potent symbol of travel (a passion of mine), and I just appreciate how predictable and reliable they are (versus cabs, etc.).
Thanks for taking the time to comment. Trains generally are quite reliable as long as there are no unusual weather conditions or workers going on strikes 😉 Just as important is how travelling by train is less stressful (usually) than by air (endless queuing/waiting and security checks).
Great post. I love mysteries set on trains, glamourous tweed suited women and men in fedoras emerging from the steps through the steam. Your post has inspired me. I will look out for this book. Enjoy your reading.
Thanks Jackie! Those were the days when people would dress up to take the train.
Trains are much under rated and I love the idea of doing the Palace on Wheels or The Orient Express. I think I shall have to read this one. It sounds a ripper.
Ooh, I would love to ride on either trains – just got to strike lottery!
Thanks a lot for linking our blogs ! 🙂
About that very nice movie, I’ve seen that they also created a Facebook page (in French) : https://www.facebook.com/pages/Jules-Fradet-journal-de-bord-dun-conducteur/1408061426128786
You’re most welcome 🙂 I liked the Facebook page and am looking forward to receiving updates in my Newsfeed (not sure if I’ll receive any following the recent changes in Facebook’s algorithm)
This is a great travel in time and space, thank you Angelina! Also for introducing us to the blogs of Mathias and Anne. I do hope you make it to the exhibition so that you can write about it afterwards! I’m going over to their website now…
Thanks Lia! I definitely want to visit the exhibition. Just have to plan and buy the tickets on Thalys before they get too expensive.
I’m just off to the library this afternoon and now I feel like hunting down a copy. Surely they’ll have it there? I just have a hankering for some entertainment on a train 🙂 .
Both the Book and the exhibition sound really interesting.
I’ve requested the Greene book from the library! I love Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express so I am very excited to find another 1930s train mystery. I’ve never been on a fancy train, but I’ve eaten in two places where they served food in old dining cars: the Pacific Dining Car in LA (which also has the great advantage of being open at all hours), and the Glenfinnan Dining Car in the Scottish Highlands. 🙂
Coincidentally, we watched two versions of Murder on the Orient Express over the recent weekend. The first was a recent adaptation by iTV; it was a mistake, we didn’t realise it wasn’t the original movie, which we eventually watched and enjoyed more 🙂
Thanks for the recommendations – I’ll check them out and the Glenfinnan might be interesting for a train journey that I’m planning later this year!