The Orient Express, a fascinating machine transporting people from different walks of life across Europe in a web of murder, lies and love. That’s the image that Graham Greene establishes in his gripping page-turner ‘Stamboul Train.’ This cemented his reputation as ‘one of the most important British writers of the twentieth century.’ (Daily Telegraph) ‘Stamboul Train’ is enthralling as you follow numerous perspectives and journeys that overlap, from crime to love. The novel carefully exposes all the individual stories of the passengers of the Orient Express and we follow them on their escapades, whether it be on the train, or off, as happens for almost all of Part 4. The novel is split into 5 parts, for Ostend, Cologne, Vienna, Subotica and finally Constantinople. This allows us to follow the progression of the train and with it, the progression of the characters and how they have altered over the course of the journey.
“On the tables in the long coaches lamps were lit and glowed through the rain like a chain of blue beads.”-p.3
The novel follows the journeys of many characters, starting as the characters first get in the train to embark. The main protagonist is Carleton Myatt, an intriguing Jewish businessman who is interested in business in Constantinople. Myatt well-off and is presented as having material wealth with ‘his fur coat, of his suit from Saville Row.’ His journey comes full circle when at the end of the novel, he seems to have more thought for the contract than the beautiful woman sat with him. The final words of the novel state: ‘He wondered whether Mr Stein had the contract in his pocket.’ Despite his love affair with Coral, which temporarily turned him into a sensitive man, Myatt still had business at the forefront of his mind at the end of the novel, just as he had when he boarded the train. This paints him out to be an evil man who won’t let a woman get in the way of business. I do not agree with this as there is enough in the earlier scenes with Coral to show that he did truly care about the right woman, travelling to Subotica in a high-speed car journey to find her. The novel closely follows the female protagonist, Coral Musker, an innocent chorus girl, who falls in love with Carleton Myatt. Their relationship is constantly under threat from the fates of the other characters, locking them in a web of mystery and ambiguity. Coral gets caught up in the crimes of Dr Czinner and Josef Grunlich, and consequently misses Myatt when he comes to find her in Subotica. She is present when the police catch Dr Czinner and kill him right before her eyes, before Mabel Warren finds her and takes her to Vienna. Much to the reader’s disappointment, Coral and Myatt don’t end up together in the end and Myatt instead ends up with Janet Pascoe, niece of Myatt’s main business rival, Mr Stein. Janet Pascoe is initially introduced as the companion of Mabel Warren, a lesbian journalist who is desperate to break the story about Dr Czinner. Mabel is left at Vienna when Josef Grunlich steals her bag having just murdered Herr Kolber. Josef Grunlich is obsessed with pride of having never been to prison and it is this selfishness that makes him immoral and stops Coral getting saved by Myatt. Q.C. Savory is mentioned little but he was on board the train as a writer, casting a rational eye over the discussions on board the train. The most mysterious and yet the most likeable character is without doubt Dr Czinner, a doctor and school teacher who also had an alter ego as a revolutionary leader. He was initially thought to be dead until Mabel Warren uncovered his secret and attempts to print in the newspaper. Dr Czinner is a remarkably calm character who puts characters around him at ease, often addressing conflict with the response ‘so.’ The novel concludes with Myatt contemplating marriage to Janet and wanting to take Stein’s business, Dr Czinner dead, Mabel and Coral heading to Vienna to print the story about Czinner and the fate of Josef Grunlich and Q.C. Savory is not known.
The novel is a frantic and exhilarating read; you don’t want to close it until the conclusion, where everything comes together and you feel resolution, albeit with disappointment that Myatt and Coral didn’t end up together. They appear destined for each other from the point that they meet and for Greene to not conclude the novel with them being together is frustrating but also interesting as he doesn’t follow the typical style where the main male protagonist and female protagonist come together in the end. The ending is the only part that I disagree with as the rest of the novel is enthralling from start to finish. Your mind must work hard with the constant overlapping of character’s fates and changing of setting. You are constantly wondering what’s going to happen to Dr Czinner or what’s going to happen to Coral and Matt or whether Mabel will ever get back to Janet.
‘The realist and the romantic struggle with each other in this book, making it a kind of mental battlefield, inducing a sense of breathlessness and urgency. It is a very remarkable piece of work, splendidly written, exciting, disturbing.’ (L.P. Hartley)
Greene ‘brought something undeniably new to fiction.’ (Daily Telegraph) Therefore I feel that ‘Stamboul Train’ deserves a wider modern readership, as an engrossing novel with a slight historical insight into the treatment of women and Jews. The novel is a memorable piece of literary art from the great Graham Greene, one of the most influential writers of the twentieth century. The novel should be remembered as Greene’s first real success and the only book that he wrote solely for entertainment. It is an extremely galvanising novel and should be remembered as an early twentieth century text that still entertains modern audiences.