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Leaving the Atocha Station Paperback – 7 Mar 2013

3.3 out of 5 stars 27 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: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 37,886 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

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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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
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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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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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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It is the year 2004 and Adam Gordon, poet and Ivy League graduate, is studying on a scholarship in Madrid. He is acutely observant, narcissistic, not fluent in Spanish, and a decidedly unreliable narrator. While he seems to be able to distinguish between 'truth' and 'falsehood' the two are blended to form a constant uncertainty. This may, or may not, be a consequence of the 'hash' and the prescription drugs that he consumes on a daily basis, often washed down with a considerable amount of alcohol.
But Adam can tell you more about his failing than I can, and in a far more amusing and telling way! No doubt Isabel and Teresa, both very fond of him, and both given something of a difficult time, could tell us more. Of course in the context we only have Adam's views to go on, and as he is well aware his judgement on them is not to be trusted! Self-doubt, lack of confidence, and uncertainty are at the heart of this novel. As is the relevance of poetry and its meaning in contemporary life.
First person narration, particularly when the narrator is such a dominant force, always risks some loss of empathy. At first I asked, "Why am I in the company of this self-centred young man?" The wry humour, the quality of the writing, and the intriguing point of view, soon won me over. Many of the quotes from reviews suggest that the novel is "very funny". It's very amusing and perceptive but I suggest that this masks a darker vision.
As you would expect Jonathan Franzen puts it better writing in the Guardian that it is "the story of a mentally unstable, substance-dependent young poet brilliantly and excruciatingly wasting a fellowship year in Madrid". The author may have had similar experiences, but he surely did not waste his time!
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