Melanie Hudson writes incredible and beautiful love stories during war time. Her novels are honest and brutal yet hopeful and strong at the same time. In times of dark violence, times where there seems to be no rulebook for what might be unacceptable to do to another human being, Hudson gives us something to root for.
She reminds us that there is still good in the world, that there are things worth fighting for and holding on to, no matter what else is going on around us.
And her latest novel, The Night Train to Berlin, is no different – this mesmerising story of love and hope is one of the best novels to come out of 2021.
Two lost souls brought together by the chaos of war.
A train journey into the past.
A love that echoes through time.
Paddington Station, present day
A young woman boards the sleeper train to Cornwall with only a beautiful emerald silk evening dress and an old, well-read diary full of sketches. Ellie Nightingale is a shy violinist who plays like her heart is broken. But when she meets fellow passenger Joe she feels like she has been given that rarest of gifts…a second chance.
Paddington Station, 1944
Beneath the shadow of the war which rages across Europe, Alex and Eliza meet by chance. She is a gutsy painter desperate to get to the frontline as a war artist and he is a wounded RAF pilot now commissioned as a war correspondent. With time slipping away they make only one promise: to meet in Berlin when this is all over. But this is a time when promises are hard to keep, and hope is all you can hold in your heart.
From a hidden Cornish cove to the blood-soaked beaches of Normandy in June 1944, this is an epic love story like no other.
Most romantic war stories gloss over what’s happening around them and just tells the love story between the characters. But Hudson is different, she doesn’t romanticise the war, or hide the atrocities of it. She shows every ugly detail of what happened. She just reminds us that there is good in the world that is worth holding on to at the same time.
The Night Train to Berlin is an incredible love story told in two different times – the present and the past. And the book goes on the two stories start to mirror each other, and we learn that the messages we can learn from the past reflects how we live our lives today.
I utterly adore Eliza. She is a strong and powerful woman – she’s a survivor. She found herself in numerous horrible situations and she gets herself out. And she doesn’t apologise for her actions or decisions to anyone. She’s strong enough to know her own mind and her heart and she follows it – even when it consumes her – without abandon.
Ellie is a woman who has played it safe her whole life, and she’s trying to use Eliza’s story to break out of the box she has spent a lifetime building around herself. She wants to be brave, she want to risk her heart, but the sensation is entirely new to her. And she uses the spirit of Eliza to gain the courage she needs to do it.
What I love about Hudson’s stories, however, are their messages. Hudson’s novels makes us question our own lives and how we live it, and The Night Train to Berlin is no different.
In this powerful novel she reminds us that there are two ways you can look at life: you can look at the bad and pain in the world, and see the loss, the cruelty, the unbearable. Or, you can have faith that everything will work out and believe in the good, and see the beauty, the grace, the miracles in life.
Eliza and Alex are the two characters that show each side of that argument.
At the beginning of the novel, Alex – who has endured a lot of pain – starts to only see the pain and the loss. He believes that there is no point in the grand scheme of things in life. That there’s no real bigger picture. That sometimes things don’t work out, and not everything will be okay and thinks the world would be better if more people just accepted that fact.
But Eliza doesn’t accept it. Deep in her heart she believes that everything will be okay. That in the end love and goodness will prevail. And despite all the atrocities she sees, all the horrible things she endures and survives and witnesses, she holds on to that faith. In fact, she doesn’t just hold on to it – she uses it to get her through the absolute worst.
What Alex starts to learn through Eliza, the same thing that Ellie learns, is that it pays to have a little faith.
Eliza tells him:
“The bookmark was my mother’s – did I tell you that? The full quote reads, ‘And all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shell be well.’”– Melanie Hudson, The Night Train to Berlin
Alex picked up another stone and threw it into the stream. “A nice idea,” he said, “but I’m not sure I could ever have such blind faith – everything can’t be well all of the time, that’s just not possible.”
Eliza shook her head. “I don’t think that’s what it means. I think it’s about choosing to live life with an open heart and an attitude of hope rather than one of dread and fear. It’s about just knowing, I suppose, that all will be well…” she placed a hand on his chest “… in here. Julian wasn’t saying that bad things won’t happen to you, she wasn’t even saying you won’t come to a sticky end. I think she was saying that, no matter what is going on around one, all can be well within. I suppose if I believe in anything, it’s in that kind of thing.”
The ending of the novel feels a little unfinished as it’s open for interpretation. Without any massive spoilers, Eliza goes off to find Alex at the end of the war, but fully acknowledges that she might not find him. When she arrives where he, with their magical time looming around the site – 3.15pm – The Night Train to Berlin ends as she says she believes he’s there and that she’s going to find him.
Hudson ends the book this way deliberately, because whether she finds him or not is irrelevant. Hudson is, in a way, testing us to see if we really took on the message in her story.
The ending isn’t about if she finds him or not. That’s not what Hudson was trying to get at. Her point was that it doesn’t matter if she finds him or not; what matter is what you believe happened.
Do you believe she found him and they found a way to live through the rest of forever together, as promised and planned? In having blind faith, believing in the impossible, believing that everything will work out in the end?
Or do you think she was too late, knowing what you know from the events in the story? Do you believe it’s important to be realistic, and that sometimes things don’t work out, or they might just be too hopeful and ridiculous to be true?
This beautiful novel, The Night Train to Berlin, shows you what kind of person you are, what kind of ending and story you believe in. Do you think with your head? Or do you follow the faith and hope in your heart?