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If you are or have ever lived or worked in London, or have ever visited, theres a fair chance youve been on the Tube. Chances are youve only ever used it to get from one place to another and not looked at all the places you could go to. This is especially true if youre using the tube at rush hour, where your main concern is to get to your destination and get your face out of the armpit of the person standing next to you. Who cares where you can go when getting to where you need to be is so smelly and distasteful?
Andys done something a bit stupid. Hes taken on a bet that even Tony Hawks would have derided as being too absurd. Hes bet that he can visit every station on the London Underground in a single day. Having been talked into the bet whilst drunk, at stake are his credit cards, his passport and his honeymoon tickets. For as if taking the bet on doesnt appear stupid enough to begin with, Andy is due to be getting married tomorrow and if he doesnt win, its not likely to happen. Essentially, hes bet his entire future against the Tube.
Starting at Morden at 5 a.m., we follow Andy through the whole of the Underground in a race against time, points failures and delayed trains. We see him accompanied by a tramp, who attaches himself to Andy and follows him around for the whole day. We get glimpses of Rachel, Andys fiancée, as she prepares herself for the big day and wonders what on earth Andy is up to and where he is.
Perhaps surprisingly for a story that is essentially a race against time, its not really a fast paced read. This is largely because for the majority of the story, its simply two people sitting on the Tube chatting as they travel from place to place. Whilst the reasons for them travelling might be fairly interesting, the actual journey isnt. There are parts where the pace picks up a little, largely while Andy is running from one platform to another to change trains, but thats about it.
It also feels that the bits involving Rachel have been added in to make things a little more interesting. With these included, its no longer a story of two blokes on a Tube, it gives it a little wider interest, turning what is more or less a travel book into something a little more human and well on the way to being a work of bloke-lit. However, it seems to fall a little between the two, feeling as if its trying a little too hard to be more popular.
It succeeds slightly more as a book that would appeal to Tube users. Whilst there isnt enough for it to be for Tube buffs as such, theres a few little nuggets of information that may enlighten the casual traveller or commuter. However, although this group will have more of an understanding of the problems Andy faces on his journey, its unlikely that many of us will have experienced them all, and certainly not all in a single day, which makes the whole thing seem a little unrealistic.
The books main failing, however, is in the characters. Andy is more of an anti-hero than a main character. Its difficult to get involved with the bet as Andy isnt presented as a person you can sympathise with or care about. You know he has a lot at stake, but you just think of him as a bit stupid for taking the bet on in the first place and even more so for when he took it on. Whilst many of us may be able to identify with Andy, very few of us would ever even think about trying what hes doing, much less do it.
If youve never been on the London Underground, there is really little to recommend this book. Its not terribly well written and its trying a little too hard. You wont be interested in the bet that makes up the story and if youre a fan of either chick-lit or bloke-lit, youll most likely be disappointed in the watered down attempt at that genre that Tunnel Vision provides. If youre not a fan of either genre, this will hold no interest for you at all.
If you have used the Tube or, even more so, if you use it regularly, this might hold some interest. Not for the story itself, but to see Andys journey as it intersects your own. Its a little like watching a travel programme that has a segment on somewhere youve been to, as you can watch it and say ooh, we went there!. Its likely to have a brief fascination, but no real interest.
Its not a book you can really sit down and enjoy, more one to be picked at occasionally. Its one you can pick up and put down very easily which would make it ideal reading for your Tube journey to and from work, if it were any good. If youre likely to be interested in seeing your regular journey in a book, you can find copies on the Amazon Marketplace from £1.00, which is really about all its worth, given how little pleasure its likely to provide. It can also be found on Amazon at £5.59 and in bookshops at £6.99, but I really wouldnt recommend you pay that for it, as once the initial fascination has passed, theres nothing of substance left.
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.
This book is one of the modern greats, it is compelling and instantly had me hooked. Trust me, pick up the book, turn to page one and you're there - unputdownable through to the finish. We're told that it is a book about men's obsessions and why their women put up with them, the story is all about Andy and Rachel and Andy's second love (well, first really) The Tube. This straight away grabs those of us who live in London and regularly use the Tube, as far as I'm concerned there is very little about it to become obsessed with or to even like never mind LOVE?!? So there we are, for those in London it's a novel which will certainly deal with a part of London with which you are familiar and for those on the outside it is about something which is strange and alien but which may have crossed your path at some point. This book should appeal to both the men and the women out there as it has both points of view (come on lads, admit it, we're all obsessed by something.....aren't we?) and explores the type of relationship that a great many people have and I'd say most are familiar with. So onto the plot: ----------------- Quite simply Andy has made a mistake - he's got in too deep and has wagered his entire future happiness on something which seems like a good idea at the time. Unfortunately the time is 2 nights before his wedding and the bet is to travel the whole length and bredth of the London Underground the following day. Andy is a Tube buff, absolutely mad on all aspects of the Underground and, aside from his work and home life, spends his time with other enthusiasts talking about their love. Rolf is one of these mates and also totally besotted with Andy's girlfriend - he sets the bet and the whole thing is set in motion. Rolf has a lot of tickets for the Tube (a collection, if you will) and Andy has Rachel - each wants the other and the bet is made. Obviously
gambling his actual girlfriend is not on the cards for Andy and it is not even sugested by Rolf but the chance to be with her and continue with his life is what he ends up gambling. Friday morning comes and the journey starts, Andy has to collect the things he needs as he travels through the system and this is where his life is in the balance - his honeymoon tickets, his passport and credit card, his hotel reservations, a ticket for the Eurostar and his travelcard are all over London and, as he needs them all to get to the wedding on Saturday he'll need to travel to each and every station for the clues and the goods. He begins at Morden, he knows where his credit card is and will follow the clues from there. At Morden he picks up his companion for the day, a 60 year old tramp called Brian and tries to shake him for the next few hours before accepting him as his travel companion and appreciates the company. So he has to get round, taking a photo of each station as he goes and get to Waterloo for 1am to head for his wedding. Will he make it? Will Rolf get his way and keep his treasured Tube tickets and split the happy couple up? Will Rachel still want Andy after all the hassle and his dodgy attitude to the upcoming wedding? Read it and see.... My views on this: ----------------- I thought this was a great book, I was drawn to it after seeing the adverts pasted all over the tube last November and deciding to redeem some of my ipoints - I was well pleased with it. A debut novel by a brilliant storyteller. It's a fast paced book, lots of little bylines and additional information. We find out all about Andy's childhood and his meeting with Rachel, his stupid friends and the beginnings of his obsessive nature. The story dots about a bit, from Andy to Rachel then back to Andy's childhood and his family history: This is all done seemlessly. At the start of each chapter we get a l
ittle list of times and places - 5.08 a.m. Morden to Colliers Wood, Northern Line - so we know all the times of trains and lines followed, we can go "Ooh, he's near my house now" as we read through and it's a good little introduction to each chapter. The characters are all brilliantly introduced and developed, their history and personalities are appealing and interesting to read about. We feel sorry for just about everyone in this book, Rachel for having to put up with Andy, Andy for having such an obsession, Rolf who has nothing but the Tube and jealousy of Andy in his life and Brian as he's a down-and-out. All sides can be sympathised with. The Tube can be very interesting, it's obvious that Keith Lowe knows a great deal of trivia about it and is a little obsessed himself. The facts that Andy comes out with are very obscre and nobody but a genuine Tube buff would seek them out, I learned quite a bit about my daily journeys from this book and this will be the same for any Londoner. In a sentence: A great book: gripping, interesting and funny - a must for Londoners and lovers of comedy novels everywhere. £6.99 from your local bookstore :)
24 hours to travel round the London Tube system and save his relationship?