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Leaving the Atocha Station Paperback – 7 Mar 2013

3.6 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Granta (7 Mar. 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847086918
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847086914
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 1.3 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 34,527 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Review

"A remarkable first novel ... Gales of laughter howl through Leaving the Atocha Station. It's packed full of gags 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

"Funny, uplifting and moving... Lerner s genius is to put into words that universal, often-lost period when most young people are commitment-free but weighed down with a sense of the nascent self... We finish this book feeling a little cleverer, and a little happier." --Financial Times

"Linguistically, Leaving The Atocha Station is one of the most remarkable books I have read this year. Lerner is a poet, but this isn t a poetic novel , by which I mean the kind of work where mellifluous description acts as a kind of literary toupée. Lerner s poetry manifests itself in elegantly stilted grammar, in contradiction and self-cancellation, in painfully self-aware self-mirroring and especially in misunderstanding ... The camber of Adam s thoughts is conveyed with astonishing grace"-Scotsman

"A thoroughly first-rate first go at a novel: properly cutting edge, searingly clever and dark and beautiful"-Dazed & Confused

"One of the most exciting aspects of Leaving the Atocha Station is seeing a dedicated poet write a novel; that addresses poetry s limitations ... Leaving the Atocha Station is partly a description of the inner territory of a new kind of American artist: cold, lazy, artificial, yet oddly honourable given the extreme honesty and thoroughness of his self-scrutiny. One half-wonders if, in the future, this model will loom as large in the minds of young artists as the Romantics and the modernists do in ours"-Sheila Heti, London Review of Books

"The sharpest and funniest novel I read this year"-Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

"Leaving the Atocha Station made a big impression on me ... the character of the poet is so twisted and vulnerable, and his musings on life and art so original and wise, that this short book is a tremendous journey for the reader. And it made me laugh."-James Meek, Sunday Herald

"Stunning... a book you can enjoy on several levels ... At its core, it s a deeply serious novel that almost by stealth makes you think afresh about all those late night imponderables to do with art and the meaning of life."-Metro

"This arrestingly clever debut novel blends lyricism, wit and emotional self-laceration." --Sunday Telegraph

This book stood out from everything else I read this year. --'Books of the Year' chosen by Catherine O'Flynn, Observer

"Linguistically, Leaving The Atocha Station is one of the most remarkable books I have read this year. Lerner is a poet, but this isn t a poetic novel , by which I mean the kind of work where mellifluous description acts as a kind of literary toupée. Lerner s poetry manifests itself in elegantly stilted grammar, in contradiction and self-cancellation, in painfully self-aware self-mirroring and especially in misunderstanding ... The camber of Adam s thoughts is conveyed with astonishing grace"-Scotsman

"A thoroughly first-rate first go at a novel: properly cutting edge, searingly clever and dark and beautiful"-Dazed & Confused

"One of the most exciting aspects of Leaving the Atocha Station is seeing a dedicated poet wri --Sunday Telegraph

A dazzling first novel that does not flinch from difficulty but asks questions of language and art and what we can do with them. --'Books of the Year', Amy Sackville, The Big Issue

"Linguistically, Leaving The Atocha Station is one of the most remarkable books I have read this year. Lerner is a poet, but this isn t a poetic novel , by which I mean the kind of work where mellifluous description acts as a kind of literary toupée. Lerner s poetry manifests itself in elegantly stilted grammar, in contradiction and self-cancellation, in painfully self-aware self-mirroring and especially in misunderstanding ... The camber of Adam s thoughts is conveyed with astonishing grace"-Scotsman

"A thoroughly first-rate first go at a novel: properly cutting edge, searingly clever and dark and beautiful"-Dazed & Confused

"One of the most exciting aspects of Leaving the Atocha Station is seeing a dedicated poet write a novel; that addresses poetry s limitations ... Leaving the Atocha Station is partly a description of the inner territory of a new kind of American artist: cold, lazy, artificial, yet oddly honourable given the extreme honesty and thoroughness of his self-scrutiny. One half-wonders if, in the future, this model will loom as large in the minds of young artists as the Romantics and the modernists do in ours"-Sheila Heti, London Review of Books

"The sharpest and funniest novel I read this year"-Craig Brown, Mail on Sunday

"Leaving the Atocha Station made a big impression on me ... the character of the poet is so twisted and vulnerable, and his musings on life and art so original and wise, that this short book is a tremendous journey for the reader. And it made me laugh."-James Meek, Sunday Herald

"Stunning... a book you can enjoy on several levels ... At its core, it s a deeply serious novel that almost by stealth makes you think afresh about all those late night imponderables to do with art and the meaning of life."-Metro

"This arrestingly clever debut novel blends lyricism, wit and emotional self-laceration." --Sunday Telegraph

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, 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. This is his first novel.


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Despite being a pretty unlikeable protagonist, he is redeemed as a worthwhile character study in dissonance and with meditations on art and particularly its relationship to both politics and reality/authenticity.

The protag is an American would-be poet abroad in Madrid on a fellowship to do some serious research, but he is just there for the experience. His research is non-existent, his poetry pretty fake as he lifts from existing work, while he is self-medicating. There is also a level of remove added to his interactions through his initially stunted grasp of Spanish. But aware he is faking it, he questions his own art and his own lack of emotions. He knows the shape of an emotion, but cannot populate it with genuine feeling. He thinks poetry may be 'anachronistic and marginalised' an art form, thrown sharply into relief by the bombings of the Madrid rail system which profoundly affected Spanish politics at the time and influenced the outcome of a general lection.

The beginning is particularly strong, as the protag moves from his daily contemplation of the same oil painting to a meditation on the aesthetic sense of the guards sat slumped in chairs throughout the gallery and there are some nice riffs throughout the novel on these themes. He will no doubt irritate some to the point of displeasure, but I enjoyed it greatly.
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Having read Leaving The Atocha Station and then 10.04 and noticed all the glowing reviews by many writers I had decided that perhaps Lerner could do without another one. Nevertheless I have to say that this novel is an accomplished piece of writing and can talk to intelligent arty people picking up perhaps some of their concerns, notably an uncomfortableness in their own skins and maybe some mental health issues, which are central to this story of a young American writer in Madrid and the crowd of young Spaniards he finds himself with. very good
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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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Left to its own devices, Lerner’s elegantly spun prose might purr on ceaselessly; calmly taking the measure of one-after-another labyrinthine thought-adventure. But, there could be no better metaphor for the shifting, porous nature of Lerner’s deconstructed world than the masterly metaphor that this novel itself embodies overall. As played out over the space of so many pages, however, this important sub-text might, indeed, remain hidden from view.

What Lerner’s novel more obviously takes stock of are the blandest aspects of the poet-narrator’s day-to-day life in Madrid, including his skittish encounters with that capital’s younger, more progressive, literary set. Hailing from Providence USA, Adam, the novel’s main protagonist (and First Person narrator) has appeared in the foreign capital as a young American poet of some reputation and still greater promise. While in Madrid he must be seen to make plausible use of the generous research funding that his track-record and research proposal have earned him. Thanks to this fellowship he is free, for a certain period, to advance his poetry within a setting conducive to bi-lingual research and cultural exchange. Aware, however, that he may be unable to deliver the project he had over-ambitiously proposed, Adam studiously avoids foundation personnel and peer fellows; ignoring even their e-mails. He nevertheless manages (if reinforced by tranquillisers, drink, dope, and prodigious intakes of nicotine and caffeine) to weave his way into the capital’s contemporary art and poetry scene. As the days go by he gathers a widening acquaintance, and even entertains potential love interests (as though, for once, he were oblivious to the risks of mistranslation).
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A story about not art itself but of how we relate to it, as the opening chapter cleverly foreshadows. I normally struggle with postmodern gimmicks - I barely finished Sophie's World, and hated Foucault's Pendulum - but here I found the conceit somehow less pretentious, and was able to enjoy the novel as it is.

Rather than exulting writing, as too many books about writing do, Leaving the Atocha Station is almost disdainful of it. Certainly our narrator-writer cuts a truly pathetic figure - a mooching stoner who's found a way to put off getting a job a little longer, who lies to get women into bed and struggles even then. On one level this story can be read as the uplifting coming of age of the stereotypical millennial man-child, as our lead gradually realises his genuine talent for poetry and accept that it might be a legitimate way for him to live. Alternately one can see this as a Lolita-style case of sympathy for the devil.

But the point that occupies most of the book is whether such ambiguity is itself fakery, pretending profundity by saying nothing. It's a trick I find all too common in literary novels - the unwillingness to essay a concrete position, especially on moral questions - but here I find it forgivable, because the novel itself is the answer - not in a self-impressed, clever-clever way, but in a simple and powerful demonstration that this stuff does, ultimately, mean something, even if we feel like we brought the meaning ourselves. Or so it felt to me.
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