Newest Review: ... you’ll most likely be disappointed in the watered down attempt at that genre that “Tunnel Vision” provides. If you’re not a fan of either ... more
Mind the gap
Member Name: Belgian999
Date: 05/06/02, updated on 21/01/05 (141 review reads)
Advantages: An easy read that keeps your interest, fascinating in an obsessive-anorak kind of way
Disadvantages: A few loose ends to be tied up
This is a curious book – enjoyable, but somehow unfulfilling by the time I got to the end, which in itself did not take long. This is not a particularly weighty tome, but at about 300 pages it took me a surprisingly short time to motor through it. OK, so I am a quick reader, but it just felt that this tale flattered to deceive a little, perhaps keeping my attention on a slightly superficial level, without ever delving into the secrets of relationships and male obsessions that the cover blurb promises.
Now, I have to admit that I find the primary subject matter of this book fascinating: I experienced the trials and tribulations of the Tube on a daily basis for 6 years on my journeys to and from school (Uxbridge – Harrow-on-the-Hill – Moor Park, in case you were wondering), and I’ve run pretty much the whole gamut of problems. Signal failures, derailments, trains being taken out of service due to person or persons unknown (er, well, almost unknown, but we denied everything) wedging a Coke can in the door, decapitated pigeons on the track, cockroaches crawling on the seats, the lot.
The main character in ‘Tunnel Vision’, Andy, is obsessed by the intricacies of the London Underground, and I have to admit that I can understand why – the pockets of my mental anorak now overflow with football trivia, but I could so easily have gone down another path. Sometimes, during the school holidays, a small group of us (aged about 13-14) would meet up at Harrow at 9:30, just in time to buy an off-peak Travelcard, and then set off on a journey of discovery around London. Our only aim was to get to as many stations as possible, and we would happily spend the day trundling across and under the city for no particular reason.
One of our number had an ever-growing collection of Tube and train tickets, while another actually admitted to being a trainspotter. Even worse than that, he had been known to note down rolling sto
ck numbers on the Tube, which is a monumentally pointless exercise. It was a close-run thing, but I sort of grew out of the obsession – I say sort of, because part of me is still fascinated by the many ghost stations on the network, the closed branch line to Ongar, and just where that siding goes outside Hillingdon station.
However, Andy was one of those boys who didn’t actually manage to leave his notepad full of carriage numbers behind, and developed into a fully-fledged Tube enthusiast. However, he has done something pretty rare for the advanced enthusiast, which is to master social skills to the point where he is due to get married in 24 hours. Unfortunately, he also got drunk with his trainspotter friend Rolf, who managed to convince him to spend the day chasing the holy grail of all Tube fanatics – visiting (with photographic proof) every single station on the network within one day. Almost impossible, but it can be done – and what’s more, Andy has managed to wager his entire life, his future on this challenge, as Rolf has hidden his tickets to Paris for the wedding, passport, Travelcard, keys and hotel reservations at various points across the Underground. Andy starts out at Morden with details of where to find his flexible friend, and has to collect more clues as he goes along, with the clock ticking as he desperately tries to stay on time and get to Waterloo in time to meet Rachel and board the 1m Eurostar.
Meanwhile, Rachel is left to pack for two, alone in the house, and has plenty of time to think things over. Why is she about to commit herself, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, to a man who is clearly helplessly obsessed with the Tube? Andy somehow attracts the company of Brian, who appears at first to be just a drunken bum with nothing better to do than annoy him, but who does manage to offer some insights into why Andy thinks he is traipsing round the Tube, and just what he can hope to
achieve by putting one over on Rolf. The infamous Rolf, meanwhile, is a shadowy figure who lurks in the background – the reader never really finds out much about him, whereas Andy, Rachel and Brian all reveal quite a lot about their past and their thoughts and feelings in conversations and chance remarks during the course of the day.
In fact, Rolf proves to have an ulterior motive in all of this, which was one aspect that I did not feel was explored to its full potential. This was perhaps down to the fact that the entire story had to take place in something approaching 22 hours – maybe there simply weren’t enough hours in the day to get all the detail in that Keith Lowe wanted to. It’s slightly frustrating though, to be given a glimpse of Rolf’s jealousy and his desire to deprive Andy of what he has. However, you do feel that you are privy to Andy’s personal revelation that his personal ambition and his obsession are not the healthiest of things to take into a married future.
The book is very well structured, as each chapter begins with a time, a place and a route: ‘5.08 a.m. Morden to Colliers Wood, Northern Line’ being the first segment of a very long journey of discovery. Andy and Brian criss-cross the capital, going deep into the bowels of the city and clattering along lonely branch lines in suburbia. The beauty of this book is that it has an instant hook for anyone who has worked and lived in London. There will be a station mentioned that you know, a stretch of track that you travelled every day, a station where you met someone many years ago, and it honestly is fascinating to read some of the nuggets of trivia that Andy comes out with during the course of the day.
That suggests, of course, either that Keith Lowe has done some extremely thorough research, or that there is a little bit of him in Andy and Rolf. In fact, there is probably a bit of the obsessive in all of us, which is what
this book is really all about. The great insights into love and relationships aren’t really there, and at the end, you are left with a couple of loose ends – you assume that Andy and Rachel do sort things out, that they have both realised where their priorities lay, and that they do make to the church on time, but you don’t know for sure. And equally, you don’t know what happens to Brian, or to Rolf – although I did find myself hoping that Rolf would suffer terribly in some freak Tube-related accident. Maybe that is a deliberate ploy, to keep you guessing right to the end, but I just felt that it left things hanging, which is a shame. This is a very enjoyable read, ideal for catching a few pages on the Tube journey to and from work (funnily enough!), but I just feel that it could have done with a few loose ends being tidied up.