Another one-off. The nearest thing I can think of to this is a book of interlinked poems, The Spoon River Anthology by Edgar Lee Masters. In that, the stories on gravestones in a small Nineteenth Century New England town connect and occasionally contradict one another and you’re left with an impression of a community. This is the same, except it’s prose, everyone involved is alive at the start and they are 252 passengers and the driver of a tube train in late 90s London.
Actually, there’s another thing it reminded me of, a bit – those 80s Write Your Own Adventure books where you chose which route to take and went back and forth in the book, with your hands in this weird palsied multi-bookmark knot. Going back and forth between the passengers to establish their relationships and backstories is one way to approach this book, or you could try reading it as a very bitty novel, from cover to cover. It’s designed to work either way.
Ryman’s written many strange and marvellous novels whilst, to begin with, working as an IT consultant for the London Borough of Lewisham. This was an online project he set up between novels that caught on far quicker than he expected (remember, this was the mid-to-late 90s when suddenly everyone was getting online for the first time, so things that had been around already got new interest). It’s almost an afterthought. There are sarcastic spoof ads about how getting a book deal for this after so many struggles for his more serious work slightly rankled with him.
As a reader, tracing the links between characters is intriguing because you, in effect, read the book twice. Seeing where each one fits into the larger scheme of things makes what you already knew about them take on new significance. It’s funny, it’s addictive but there’s an occasional dash of something more, some poignancy, some anger and the giddy exhilaration of what else there is the novel can do that hasn’t really been tapped yet.
By Tat Wood
[This book can be read online here, where hyperlinks can lead you through the stories.]