Leaving the Atocha Station

Ben Lerner

Leaving the Atocha Station

From a National Book Award finalist, this ironic first novel captures the angst of the young American abroad. 3.9 out of 5 based on 9 reviews
Leaving the Atocha Station


Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Paperback
Pages 181
Date of Publication August 2011
ISBN 978-1566892742
Publisher Coffee House Press

From a National Book Award finalist, this ironic first novel captures the angst of the young American abroad.


The Guardian

Geoff Dyer

Gales of laughter howl through Leaving the Atocha Station. It's packed full of gags (Adam is convinced that Ortega y Gasset is two people, like Deleuze and Guattari) and page-long one-liners itemising the narrator's ghostly immunity to normal human relations. Adam is a repellent figure ("I imagined breaking the bottle over her head….") or would be were it not for the self-lacerating ("…then raking my throat with the jagged glass") consciousness of that awfulness ... intensely and unusually brilliant.


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The Independent

Peter Carty

If Gordon is spectacularly self-indulgent, he's also engagingly self-deprecating and acutely self-aware – and can be laugh-out loud funny ... With his foregrounding of ironised alienation, Lerner can be compared to an early Bret Easton Ellis, while possessing greater intellectual purchase. His anti-hero knows he can be accused of phoniness, but then so can absolutely everyone else: "Who wasn't squatting in one of the handful of prefabricated subject positions proffered by capital?"


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The New York Times

Garry Sernovitz

Ben Lerner’s remarkable first novel, published last year, is a bildungsroman and meditation and slacker tale fused by a precise, reflective and darkly comic voice. It is also a revealing study of what it’s like to be a young American abroad.


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The Times

Andrew Staffell

We follow Gordon down the tunnels of his conflicted consciousness to parties and poetry readings, on strolls around the city and out-of-town trips with girlfriends. A morbid fascination at his social awkwardness and self-destructive duplicity, and the tension created by a mind teetering on the edge of panic, are some of the more straightforward pleasures of the narrative ... That the novel refuses to yield clear answers is no accident. Like the literature Gordon eulogises, its charge derives from the ambiguities that emerge from its contradictory propositions.


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Times Literary Supplement

Stephen J Burn

Ashbery’s “Leaving the Atocha Station” (from The Tennis Court Oath, 1962) is one of his collage works, a complex poem that Ashbery himself described as an aggregate of “dislocated, incoherent fragments of images”. Lerner’s novel is rarely dislocated, but it does present the reader with a kind of collage, juxtaposing fragments of poems with first-person narration, and text with images that counterpoint Adam’s experience ... An anatomy of a generation’s uncertainty and self-involvement, the novel offers a carefully constructed snapshot of a nation in doubt, torn in different directions, while its narrator – like everyone else – tries to “dwell among contradictions”.


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The Financial Times

Isabel Berwick

Lerner’s genius, though, is to put into words that universal, often-lost period when most young people are commitment-free but weighed down with a fragile, serious sense of the nascent self. Nobody in this book wears their learning lightly, while unfortunate Adam is both pretentious and hopeless at the practical skills of life … For all his faults, Adam has an endearing honesty, and thinks so much about everything that some of it rubs off on the reader. We finish the book feeling a little cleverer, and a little happier.


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The Guardian

Jenny Turner

Adam's research is divided into clear phases. In the first, he spends his time looking at paintings in the Prado. One day, he watches as another spectator bursts into tears in front of Van der Weyden's Descent from the Cross – "was he having a profound experience?" The novel reproduces a detail from the painting – Joseph of Arimathea, the wetness rolling down his cheeks. Shortly after, Adam impresses a glamorous young woman by pretending his mother has just died: "I … licked the tips of my fingers and rubbed the spit under my eyes … repeating this until I felt there would be enough moisture to catch a little light." The overall narrative is structured round such subtle, delicate moments: performances, as Adam would call them, of intense experience. They're comic in that obviously, Adam is an appalling poseur. But they're also beautiful and touching and precise.


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The Sunday Times

Phil Baker

Leaving the Atocha Station is intelligent but not entirely satisfying. Adam is not a great satirical creation, nor does he achieve any serious artistic redemption. Instead he remains uncomfortably close to Lerner (two pages of his thoughts about the poet John Ashbery are lifted from a published essay by Lerner).


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The Literary Review

Jonathan Barnes

For much of its short length, Lerner’s novel features a parlous lack of incident ... Only towards the end, when violence threatens to overtake him, does the book begin to cohere. Then the moment passes, the hint of coalescence fades, and the wandering resumes. Leaving the Atocha Station’s fitfulness, its ellipses and persistent thwarting of expectation are doubtless deliberate, though they remain no less frustrating for that.


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