I seem to be travelling up to London on an almost weekly basis at the moment, usually there and back in one day, rising at 6am and falling back with a crash around 11pm. I come through the door surrounded by capering dogs and excitable kittens, head for the loo, squint at the red-eyed travel weary face in the mirror and fall on the pillows.
In the train on the way up I prepare for the day ahead, making notes, reading papers, gathering thoughts. But on the way back I'm desperate to concertina the hours of travelling into a moment, and ferret in my bag for the book of the day.
I seem to be in a world of Eastern European immigration; first with Lewycka's Two Caravans, which I warmed to (loved that Dog), and then Rose Tremain's The Road Home, which is fantastic.
As a novel moves its way into the final trimester, you don't necessarily expect new moments. Mostly you get more of the same, whether it be beauty, brutality, murder or machinations, but those last chapters of Tremain's both made me laugh out loud in the quiet carriage, and spout tears.
It may be predictable to enjoy plot quite so much, but I want a story, the revelation and development of character, pain and pleasure, hurt and happiness. I WANT the predictable AND the ridiculous, and I got both with Tremain; the old lady leaves a righteous legacy, and the Chinese asparagus pickers carry out an unexpected service.
There are many moments of recognition between the two novels, as if little windows of a shared world collide and then drift: the twinned Chinese characters; the hopes and dreams of the immigrant; the dodgy employment opportunities; the brotherhood of nations in a foreign space; the ineffectiveness of bureaucracy; the realism of old peoples' homes. Such different books, so many mutual presences.
I stroked the cover of Tremain's book after I'd finished the last sentence. I wanted to absorb her talent, share her gift. It was a feast.