Here, Roman Payne is at his best... "The Basement Trains" is an extraordinary book to read and re-read!
When I first read the reviews of "The Basement Trains" that brought attention to all the classical allusions (such as likening the heroine to Queen Penelope from The Odyssey) and the theories about the poem's relation to Renaissance literature, and the "modernist" poetic movement in Europe, I was worried that the work would be too scholarly and therefore inaccessible and not entertaining enough to read. On the contrary, the references to historical literature can be read as mere curiosities (footnotes are conveniently included at the bottom of every page citing the author's comments on particular passages). Analyzing these curiosities opens up a new philosophical dimension to the poem that makes it that much more interesting to read over and again; however, the most casual readers will find this book a highly rewarding read even if they skip the footnotes.
The book reminds one of an old fairy tale in the way it is clearly composed and easy to read. Yet the poetic rhythm of the words and the simplistic beauty of the dialogue make it a highly stirring piece that one will want to read over and over, just as one listens over and over to a favourite piece of music.
Overall, "The Basement Trains" is a simple story of wandering, of love and loss, of travelling... it is a beautifully-written, touching and emotionally poignant work that readers will appreciate having around to read again every once in a while - for each time it seems to offer something new.
I was also pleased that there is a French translation included in this edition; and, moreover, that the French version appears on the opposite page as the English version, so readers who read a little French (or if they are French, a little English), will enjoy comparing the two texts side-by-side.
The other pleasant surprise was the "photographic plates" included in this edition that show scenes of places and portraits of people described in the poem. These serve as visual footnotes and remind me of the illuminations included in the works of André Breton or William Blake.
Adding it all together: the photographs, the French side-by-side translation, and the compelling prose that readers will want to read many times over the years, I highly recommend "The Basement Trains" ... and the small retail price makes it that much more worth it.
"The Basement Trains" strikes me as being much more than a poem in prose, more than a fairy tale, more than a short story of love and adventure. It is a lyrical masterpiece and among the finest examples of 21st century literature.