The Train Was on Time doesn’t read like the book of a man who has written many books previously. What it most reminded me of was a facsimile I looked at of Orwell’s 1984 typescript, which seemed pretty blameless, but which Orwell went ahead and purged anyway. Böll’s novel has the blamelessness of that ur-Orwell text, a kind of mild excess, too much striving, too many sense impressions, too much authorial intention, too many similes... In a war book where there is at least a chance of actual wounds and actual bullets and actual leaden waves, this is a showy waste of sensibility and sensation. Later, the names of places stand in for the places themselves (a little like: ‘We’ll always have Paris’)... There is something strangely lax and uncoercive about the book, which in the end doesn’t persuade. It’s not that the situation on the train is charmed, one comes to think, or even fraught with meaning and intensity, so much as that Böll’s rendering of it is inadequate and perhaps untrustworthy: these three men, unsupervised, drinking, off by themselves in some rather theatrical pen, not really thinking of doing a bunk?.. It has that 1940s and 1950s drag towards abstraction, leaving the reader always aware that he is reading some constructed thing, and fearing he is probably even now being taught a lesson.