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Leaving the Atocha Station [Hardcover]

Ben Lerner
3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)

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Book Description

5 July 2012
Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his attitude towards art. Fuelled by strong coffee and self-prescribed tranquillizers, Adam's 'research' soon becomes a meditation on the possibility of authenticity, as he finds himself increasingly troubled by the uncrossable distance between himself and the world around him. It's not just his imperfect grasp of Spanish, but the underlying suspicion that his relationships, his reactions, and his entire personality are just as fraudulent as his poetry. In prose that veers between the comic and tragic, the self-contemptuous and the inspired, Leaving the Atocha Station is a dazzling introduction to one of the smartest, funniest and most audacious writers of his generation.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (5 July 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847086896
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847086891
  • Product Dimensions: 22.3 x 14.3 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 408,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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A remarkable first novel ... Gales of laughter howl through Leaving the Atocha Station. It's packed full of gags (Adam is convinced that Ortega y Gasset is two people, like Deleuze and Guattari) and page-long one-liners itemising the narrator's ghostly immunity to normal human relations ... After the attacks, with the election of Zapatero imminent, an activist tells Adam that he has been "up all night protesting and partying. I asked if those were the same things, protesting and partying." The question is not asked maliciously and the book never feels like satire. What is does feel like is intensely and unusually brilliant. Beyond that, I don't know quite what it is and I like it all the more for that. --Geoff Dyer, Observer

The narrator of Ben Lerner's short but potent novel is, by his own admission, a fraud... A morbid fascination at his social awkwardness and self-destructive duplicity, and the tension created by a mind teetering on the edge of panic, are some of the more straightforward pleasures of the narrative. But there is much more to this beguiling text. We perceive an intellectual rigour and ideological coherence behind Gordon's masks; through these Lerner sets up profound questions about the possibilities of art and human experience... That the novel refuses to yield clear answers is no accident. Like the literature Gordon eulogises, its charge derives from the ambiguities that emerge from its contradictory propositions. --The Times

Hilarious and crackingly intelligent, fully alive and original in every sentence. --Jonathan Franzen

About the Author

Born in Kansas in 1979, BEN LERNER is the author of three books of poetry, The Lichtenberg Figures, Angle of Yaw, and Mean Free Path. He has been a finalist for the National Book Award and the North California Book Award, a Fulbright Scholar in Spain, and the recipient of a Howard Foundation Fellowship. In 2011 he became the first American to win the Munster State Prize for International Poetry. He teaches in the writing program at Brooklyn College. Leaving the Atocha Station is his first novel.

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Self-portait in a Madird Notebook 5 April 2014
Adam, American, early-twenties, is in Madrid on a Fulbright (or similar) scholarship in 2004. He’s hyper-sensitive (which he manages with pills and dope) and has a creative and questioning intelligence, which unfortunately warps into self-absorption and misanthropy. Initially lonely, he is inexplicably taken up by a wealthy, glamorous and radical set of friends, who take him to cool parties and invite him to perform his poetry at prestigious readings. His two friends Isabel and Teresa are both very understanding of his oddities, and he ought to be having a great time, but remains jealous, picky and callous. The tension built as I waited for him to commit some final outrageously nasty act (but spoiler: he doesn’t – he even mellows a little finally, for a moderately happy ending).

The shy-young-genius Bildingsroman stuff, the thin plotting, the artistic milieu and the city-wandering felt a bit neo-modernist. The unreliable narrating and the included poems and photos felt a bit post-modernist. I liked the funny descriptions of misunderstanding a foreign language, and of the strange ways people act in the presence of Art, and of Adam’s interior hysteria in his relationships.
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12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
By Paul Bowes TOP 500 REVIEWER
Ben Lerner is a highly regarded young American poet. 'Leaving the Atocha Station' - the title is taken from a poem by John Ashbery, whom Lerner admires - is his first novel. Set around the time of the Madrid bombings in 2004, it recounts a few months in the life of Adam Gordon, a young American poet who has been awarded a writing scholarship in Spain. Adam is struggling: with doubts about his ability as a poet; with his relationships with women; with the Spanish language; with the question of whether to return to the States or pursue a new life in Spain; with drugs prescribed and unprescribed. The common factor is his sense of mediacy: of being in transit and yet without a defined goal, of being separated from his own experiences in a way that renders them null.

'Leaving the Atocha Station' has been highly praised by reviewers, but left me with a distinct sense of dissatisfaction. The novel of a young man's education in life is a firmly established genre, and certain types of cliché have become hard to avoid, but Lerner seems actively to court some of the worst. In particular, the reader's investment in the story is likely to turn on his or her response to the central character. Lerner is alive to Adam's selfishness and self-absorption, his casual cruelty and mythomanic propensities, and it may be that these qualities were intended to come across as essentially comic - especially as they rarely achieve the results Adam intends - but the abiding impression was of a highly privileged young man who might serve as a living exemplar of the American term 'ingrate'.

Characters that are hard to admire in life may nonetheless prove compelling in narrative. But Lerner never managed to make me care about Adam's intransitive state or his possible futures.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A bit of a struggle 20 Jan 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This book is written by a clever author, who, it seems to me, wants you to know how clever he is. I love Madrid, have lived a student life and ought to have been pleased with the detail and authentic Madrid feel of the novel, but I had a big problem. I really disliked the protagonist (you cannot call Adam a hero). It is not that he is a drug taking, self-indulgent American spending his country's money and that of his rich parents, unwisely (he is on a fellowship grant for poetry writing). It is that he is a compulsive liar who treats others with disdain. Part of the author's skill is that he makes you see Adam's friends through your own eyes, not Adam's and you realise what cultured and valuable people they are, but this only served to make me dislike Adam even more and I was glad when the book ended.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Tedious self indulgent read 12 Mar 2013
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
I took the review of this book from the Times and thought it sounded like something i would generally enjoy reading. I found the book tedious and boring, and actually found myself wishing the % away on the kindle! Somehow i could not give up on it, but i felt as though i was endlessly waiting for either something to happen or some blinding insight about one (or any) of the (cold and unlikeable) characters. Full of accounts which go nowhere, self indulgent ramblings and endless text about smoking, drinking, taking tablets and telling lies. I am not sure what the point was to this novel. Inaccessible, utterly depressing and did little for me i am afraid. Maybe the author is a better poet than writer.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Struggled 23 Jun 2013
I really struggled with this book. Although there are passages of text which are written beautifully, they felt like individual pieces rather than flowing in the main narrative. As other reviewers have commented, there is something incredibly self-conscious about the style of writing, self-indulgent even.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This book comes with extensive praise (within the front covers) from, among many others, Paul Auster and Jonathan Franzen. It starts well with a spectator in the Prado bursting into tears before one painting after another - a great experience of art, or a madman on the loose? Museum guards start to congregate...before the man walks out of the building. And the set-up is fine, of a poet on a scholarship to Madrid, reflecting on what makes for great experiences of art and life...But I found that the episodes did not build one on another, and although I found some of the earlier chapters mildly amusing, overall it became a bit tedious...and I would find it hard to recommend on the basis of my own experience to others. But of course other's experiences in reading this might be more like Paul Auster's or Jonathan Franzen's....
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars Spanish Harbour
This is a book about being young. The narrator, who is not endearing, displays all the self-absorption, lack of concern and misapprehension that one remembers from ones own youth. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Freelancer Frank
5.0 out of 5 stars Efficient service
This book arrived very promptly and it was good value for money. Haven't read it yet but it is exactly what I expected
Published 9 months ago by Geraldine
4.0 out of 5 stars Fear and loathing in Madrid
First of all, congratulations to Granta Books for picking up this book by a first-time novelist who should go on to do more, and even better. Read more
Published 16 months ago by NickR
4.0 out of 5 stars Stoned in translation
So much felt splendidly spot on in this tale of a young guy hanging out in a foreign city - a rite of passage that so many of us have been through - myself in Barcelona. Read more
Published 16 months ago by paperbackwriter
3.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant or pretentious?
Adam is a young American poet on a fellowship in Madrid in 2004. He has been funded to work on a poem about the Spanish Civil War but he confesses that he knows nothing about the... Read more
Published 16 months ago by Wynne Kelly
1.0 out of 5 stars intellectual arrogance behind a mask
This is possibly the most depressing book I've read in many a year. The narrator, Adam Gordon, is self-important, intellectually arrogant and cold - if this is a roman à... Read more
Published 18 months ago by charlie
4.0 out of 5 stars Well written and comical
This is a very well executed debut novel from this American poet turned novelist and has a number of autobiographical features that seem to mirror the writers own experiences. Read more
Published 18 months ago by Pete Williams
5.0 out of 5 stars compelling & funny
hot new poet's novel. He looks like franzen but writes better. This is a coming of age writer in foreign country story, clearly a lot of autoB thrown in, with some unreliable... Read more
Published 21 months ago by Amazon Customer
1.0 out of 5 stars would be more stars if it was a parody
this novel is about an american postgrad on some kind of endowment that funds him to produce 'poetry' in madrid for a while. Read more
Published on 19 Aug 2012 by Roman Totale
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