Leaving the Atocha Station by Ben Lerner

The language in this book is beautiful, as is the writing style. Whilst some have stated that it is short on plot, (and it is true, the narrative meanders rather than races along), the prose is stunning.

It tells the story of Adam a young American who is in Spain on a foundation scholarship to write poetry. He is full of all the neurosis and insecurities of youth compounded by an incomplete grasp of the language. My daughter who has Asperger’s often says to me that for her it is like everyone is speaking a different language, she has the dictionary, but she has to decipher everything everyone says to understand what they mean. Socially she is adrift. I got the feeling that in addition to being young naive and insecure Adam had a little bit of what my daughter Charlotte has. That he too was somewhere on that spectrum. Gifted, a genius, but unable for the life of him to work out what to do in social situations and resorting to various drugs to help him deal with the anxiety they provoke. Not I hasten to add that my daughter does drugs.

Ben Lerner

The book deals with various relationships he has and his experiences in Spain from walking through galleries to seeing the aftermath of an Al Qaeda bombing at Atocha Station. If I try to describe the plot to you it is going to be a very short paragraph. Books however can be more than just plots. This one stands out above other novels I have read because of the beauty of the writing and the sensitivity with which Adam is portrayed. A poet, a thinker, who constantly reflects on his life and his surroundings, who searches for meaning. His exaggerations and little lies only serve to endear me to him. He is awkward just like any teen, just like my daughter, and I love him all the more for it.

So what did Bookclub think of it ?

To be honest they weren’t enamoured of it. Universally reviled is probably a better description. Short on plot, unlikable protagonist and sesquipedalian (that is a long word for use of long words and being long winded).

Madeleine found it difficult to read and said he used the most ridiculous words. It was obviously meant to be funny, but it just wasn’t. The only reasonable bit was when he was describing his trips. The self-analysis and self-reflection was boring.

Caroline said the book made her fall asleep.

Jan listened to it on audio book and found it melodic to be read to, but said it was just sad the way he lied to so many people. It left her wondering how the mother had messed him up so much.

Anne-Marie liked the character. His learning of the language resonated with her. She had a similar experience of learning the language when she was learning Spanish. She would just guess at meanings and just get the gist of things. She felt his description of being young was good and he captured the insecurities of youth quite well but agreed there was not enough plot.

Shelia said she could only read it in small doses. She listened to some of it on audio book but had to listen to it at 1.4 times the speed as it was too slow for her. She felt it read like a poem. It did make her a bit nostalgic for her time in Spain when she was a student. She can remember how they too did not have phones. She felt it captured the American student in Spain well. She also felt that it captured the mood of the Spanish well. Adam was so pretentious and he was always worried what others would think. Shelia pointed out that the Spanish are simply not hung up about things, it wouldn’t occur to them to make an issue of things. Rebeca agreed and also  felt that the Southern Europeans were generally more spontaneous. Diana pointed out that it was much easier to be spontaneous when you didn’t have to worry about the weather.

Rebeca felt the protagonist Adam certainly wasn’t a high achiever. Anne-Marie said he wasn’t motivated and obviously had a mood disorder.

Jo recommended the book as it was one of her sister’s favourites. She hadn’t read it at the time. She wanted to apologise as she hated it and found it excruciating. She felt that there was a clumsy insertion of prose and felt like Madeleine that there was an over-use of obscure words and phrases and that he perversely put words in that no one understood.

Everyone agreed the second half of the book was better. Diana felt that this contained some very funny observations.

As far as Adam’s character was concerned, Shelia probably spoke for most of the group when she said he was such a horrible guy you couldn’t like him and you just didn’t want to laugh at him. She said in the first part of the book she would read five pages, give up and do laundry.

Its safe to say despite my personal thoughts on this book, it was not loved or even remotely liked by book club.

A review of the book

Next books

We have changed the schedule of books. Due to the length of American Wife we will now be discussing it over two book groups in January / February.  I will be having a break next week and there will be no bookclub. There will also be a break from bookclub on the 28 December so people can spend time with their families.

The new schedule therefore is as follows:

14 December-  Meet the author event Manual for a Decent Life by Kavita A Jindal.


11 January- Girl, Women, Other by Bernardine Evaristo

25 January and 8 February – American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld

Virtual Events

Join this digital discussion with this year’s winner of the Booker Prize with Bernardine Evaristo Tickets are £5 see


Purchase tickets to Tim Minchin’s Apart Together on the 19 November, you have until the 21 November to watch the live stream


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