Monday, December 29, 2008

Ticket To Ride by Dennis Potter

I've been interested in Dennis Potter since I saw the theatrical version of Mr Potter's TV serial,
The Singing Detective. While I have yet to watch the TV serial (which I own on DVD), I have read his teleplay for Christabel, and one of his novels, Ticket To Ride.

The novel opens up with a regular English man in a dining car on train, who apparently has amnesia. He can't remember who he is, where he's going, why and what has happened. He asks the gentlemen at his table if he is, by any chance, with them. Once the train arrives at London, the mysterious man names himself John Buck, as opposed to the corpse's name of John Doe, and he attempts to sort out his life, while all the time being strangely drawn to a girl named Penny who may or may not be a prostitute. At the same time, Helen, the wife of John, suffers from the sickening dread of a missing husband and the shame of her own mysterious past.

The novel seems so straight forward at the beginning, but the journey turns out to be a winding spiraling one, the narrative going back upon itself numerous times. Normally, I don't much care for cerebral novels about amnesia or long descriptions of what seems like acid trips, but the sheer quality of Potter's prose is indomitable.

Winding and confusing, this is sort of like Potter's other works, in terms of themes and structure. Memory, fantasy, dream and the present all co-mingle to create a tapestry of character, which is always paramount.

Identity is a theme that goes hand-in-hand with the device of amnesia. Who am I? Who knows my name? It's interesting that in this novel, the nameless protagonist chooses a seemingly random name, and it's his actual name, like he was meant to do it anyway.

The amnesia angle gives the first part of the book some drive and some suspense, but once the flashbacks and scenes with Helen come into play, Potter wisely begins to lessen the degree of amnesia descriptions. Far more interesting than John's wild journey is Helen's life with John and without.

It's Helen's mysterious past, that's professionally and perfectly revealed in slow tantalizing tastes that make the second half of the book. Once the pieces are confusingly put into place for the first of two climaxes, Potter gives us a game-changing twist.

Spoilers therein

John is not amnesiac at all, nor is Helen a former prostitute named Penny. It's all a sexual game, roleplaying done to a hideous degree. John's self-loathing and despair and sexual guilt, all from being raised by a pulpit-pounding priest, come to a head as he abuses Helen emotionally and treats her like the dirt that grows the bland hedgerows, the recurring motif.

A common theme in Potter's work is sexuality and dysfunction. There's a intriguing conversation between Angela, the couple's friend (a slut and a common "the other woman") and Helen, in which it is revealed that John is filled with revulsion post-coital, revulsion at the act itself. On the surface, and before the reveal, this feels like vital information in understanding why John might have amnesia and why he's left. In reality, it's all part of the game, which doesn't come to light until after the reveal.

This is all very interesting if it wasn't for the slight streak of misogyny running through John and the story. John's self-loathing and pathetic state is manifested in disgust at the female form, and his obsession with prostitutes, obsession like the relationship between observers and car crashes. He can't stay away from them, and he continually treats them like an English gentleman and like a oaf. He consistently tries to be a white knight but ends up succumbing to his own selfish desires and lust, in turn creating more guilt and self-hatred.

Ticket To Ride is a portrait of a broken, disgusting little man with little to provide society. But this doesn't come until you've read most of the book. Potter's playing a mean trick on the reader, and unless you're willing to go along with him in the filthy roads of the English mind, then you're going to feel cheated and conned.

I really enjoyed this novel as an engineering feat, rather than as a work of narrative art. The story left me cold and pondering what made Potter want to write this, but the sheer elegance of his prose and the structure made me appreciate
Ticket To Ride. I would recommend this to those who are already familiar with Potter's work. To go in blind would be disastrous.

Apparently, this novel has reached cult status thanks to the freaky looking Robert Pattison or whatever. He mentioned the novel in an interview while promoting the tripe called Twilight. I have to say this because I'm that shallow: I did not read this because of its recent popularity. I've been a fan of Potter for awhile. My disgust for that film and book is equal to the embarrassment I have if anyone mistakes my motives for reading
Ticket To Ride. Also, this book is fetching hundreds of dollars on eBay because of this tenuous and fatuous connection. How sad are we.


Twerd said...

Robert Pattinson for a start, well he launched the book again so further people are buying the book. The book you so love as it thrill the socks of you.
Tho to say tribe to his name when he has just got Dennis Potter a few more readers no wait a few hundred. Then where is you head.

Anonymous said...

I really like Dennis Potter books too and I think it really isn't very nice to trash talk Rob Pattinson because he likes reading his books also. I am like you as far as I like Dennis Potter not because Rob mentioned it in an interview but b/c his books are good. It sucks that Ticket to Ride is so expensive and I may never get to read it now but I think that you trash talking somebody that likes the book doesn't acomplish anything. Rob can't help what other people do. I think you owe him an apology for what you said about him.

matthew. said...

I don't owe anybody an apology. Isn't it sad that the popularity of Ticket To Ride isn't related to the book itself, but to a film adaptation of a poorly written and ill-conceived novel for teens? Why isn't the novel's status attributed to its merits rather than an actor, the last person I want telling me how to read?

Anonymous said...

why so bitter matthew? love what you read or don't. be happy for people's success regardless of who or what propels it. isn't the fact that the book is reaching more people a good thing?

matthew. said...

It feels like you're saying the end justifies the means, which is conceptually murky waters indeed. What if that person's success is built off the backs of others? I have a strong suspicion that if Potter were alive today, he would carefully and eloquently distance himself from the Twilight phenomenon. I certainly wouldn't want to be associated with it.

Anonymous said...

COMMENT on the two arguing about who recommended...good dispite recommendation...blah blah...It is quite irrelevant and if I should be the author, I would welcome all to reading my book whether gateway via heart throb Rob, Sponge Bob... and who cares...when I have already immersed it a well written book!

Anonymous said...

Unfortunally people watch more movies than read.
If Robert Pattinson is promoting reading, especially a excellent writer like Potter, there is no comments about that, he is wonderful.

matthew. said...

Hopefully reading Potter would improve everybody's English. What's the story on the bizarre grammar with all these comments?

Anonymous said...

If Robert Pattinson was any unknown guy and said the book was great you wouldn't have a problem. He cant help it if obsessed tweenies run out and buy every copy remaining on shelves. Should he never be allowed another opinion about a literary work? Obviously you have a copy of the book and the shortage is not effecting you. Get over it and yourself.

Anonymous said...

are you retarded? Robert Pattinson only answered a question in an interview. He even stated that it wasn't a very interesting reason for reading it just because he liked it. You sound spiteful and bitter and jealous. He is a wonderful soulful singer and fairly new to acting let him get his feet on the ground before you start giving him a hard time. Jeez, or how about just be nice!

Anonymous said...

are you retarded? Robert Pattinson simply answered a question someone asked him in an interview. He even stated that it wasn't a very interesting reason to read the book just because he liked it. I thinks it's amazing that he will introduce a new generation to an author with works worthy of reading. Don't bash the guy just because he is a heart throb, he can't control what the teenagers do or act like. You sound petty, bitter and jealous. A little self righteous as well. Pompas and arrogant as well.

matthew. said...

My favourite way to start a reasonable thoughtful debate is to say "are you retarded".

You have got to be kidding me. I like that the second comment, which is roughly the same, but slightly angrier, comes an hour after the first. It's like the anonymous author got even more mad as he or she pontificated on my oh so important opinion.

Why bother debating with someone who accuses me of being bitter, spiteful and jealous? There's no winning on the Internet. We're approaching the conclusion of Godwin's Law. A couple more comments, I guess.

Anonymous said...

Ah, Matthew. I'm a 48 year old woman who read Twilight because my nieces insisted. Neither romance novels nor vampire epics interested me, but what the heck. What the books did for me was bring me back to 17 in vivid color and emotion. This was a feat I thought was impossible. I thought the first book was poorly written. Then I realized that I didn't care. NO ONE ELSE has ever come close to being in the mind of a 17 year old girl the way Stephanie Myers has. I would recommend that you look at a couple of interviews with Rob Pattinson before passing judgement. He's not your typical 22 year old guy. Matthew, you're not an ignorant man. Do some homework before you put your opinion in print and don't try to steal anyone else's smiles.
P.S. Now books and movies about amnesia are my cup of tea. Ever see "Memento?"

Shar said...

Wow, Matthew. I amazed at your attitude toward the above comments. Are you that superior to everyone else? What is up with the whole "are you retarded" debate start? It does seem as if the population is going backwards in evolution--but the use of retarded is unfair to those with real handicaps (not just idiocracy). As critical as you are--it is your blog, so have at it!

I came across your blog while trying to learn more about Dennis Potter and his books. You are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to own "Ticket To Ride" when it didn't cost a hundred dollars. My local library doesn't even have a copy. The question you think the book is worth the current going price? I plan to wait until the hype has faded to find a copy. I think I will read "The Singing Detective" first. Do you plan on reading any of Potter's other works?

matthew. said...

To Shar,

the "are you retarded" comment was sarcastic at the anonymous posters who said that to me. Sorry if the sarcasm wasn't obvious

Emma said...

I Just came across this blog when I was trying to figure why Ticket to Ride was so expensive. I read it a number of years ago, but it was a friends copy, and I thought I would read it again. To my dismay and confusion the only copy I could find was selling for 282$
Now, I quite enjoyed the first part of your blog, but I don't feel like your last paragraph was fair. Yes, Twilight has pretty much taken over - much like the Harry Potter series - in our obsessive, crazy, media driven world, but I am confused as to why you are so angry that this actor, by no fault of his own- has started this high demand for the book.
I can also understand you pessimism for the Twilight series - anything that has such crazy hype can be off putting - but have you actually read them? I just recently did, and only because I was given a copy. I was pleasantly surprised, I mean it is not 'high literature' but it has it's merits.I can understand why you would be upset that these teen fans are buying the book because they idolize Rob and want to be connected somehow to him - but honestly isn't it better that these teens are idolizing a person who is getting them to read? And at the same time I am quite pleased that this -what did you call it? I can't remember something along the lines of crap literature - has come out because then at least young kids are reading - something - reading I fear is being lost in the younger generations - at least they are reading, no?

Anonymous said...

I'm thinking about typing up the book.. I have nothing better to do, i guess if anyone wants to read it i could type it up? because i'm not sure how it works posting it online.. so.. yeah.. email is let me know if youre interested and i'll start typing it soon..

Anonymous said...


I enjoyed reading your blog about Potter's "Ticket to Ride." My library doesn't have it either, but it sounds like something I would enjoy. My favorite author is Martin Amis. Since I see that you are prone to criticizing people you don't know, you can do with that information what you will. I think that your attack of Pattinson is an unfortunate distraction from your otherwise thoughtful and well-written book review. The way I discovered Amis was that he was recommend to me by someone who had just finished reading "Dead Babies". I find that such a casual sharing of information - as in the Pattinson interview - can lead people in good directions, while behaving like a pretentious know-it-all isn't beneficial to anyone.


Michael said...

Here's me hoping you're stilling checking this blog and are willing to respond!

Just a few minutes ago, I completed Ticket to ride. As expected, I went with the believe that John had lost his memory. For about 3/4 of the book that made complete sense to me, but then strange stuff started happening. I started suspecting John suffered from DID.

However - not once did a sexual role play gone bad cross my mind. I still find no reason to think this. I'd like to know how exactly you came to that conclusion. It does make sense, I would just like to know what I missed.

matthew. said...


As it's been 8 months since I read the book, I can't really go into details about my conclusion without digging the book out of storage.

I can tell you, however, that Potter's constant obsession with sexual deviancy (or rather, sexual "otherness") and the never-ending references to prostitutes in the novel helped me reach my interpretation.

The wife's backstory is implied to be fabricated, if I remember correctly, and the fantasies of adultery are also embellished for the protagonist's "satisfaction".

I read the novel as a really long roleplaying game for the protagonist....

Michael said...

Thank you so much for replying, even after such a long time.

It's only been about a month, and even I wouldn't be able to go into small detail, so I understand.

I was not at all familiar with Potter, the sexual references were abundant, but I never really gave it that much thought. I just thought it was his style, or something he just liked to write about.

It's a shame I don't really remember enough details, I guess I'll have to read it again some time.

Sabrina said...

Hey there,

just wanted to let you know, that i really liked your "review" about "ticket to ride". so...thanks for that!
and yes....WE ARE SICK! i was completely shocked by the selling prices of this book...and when i found out about the pattinson-thing i just couldn't believe it. BUT i'm glad that potter was introduced to a lot of young girls. i only wish that there were more famous people talking about good literature!! i will definately keep my ears (an mind!) open for that...
(and sorry about the grammar - i'm not english!)