Review: M Train by Patti Smith

I don’t know what it is about Patti Smith’s writing that makes me so happy. The poetry-esque prose that canter across the page. Whether it be the self-reflection or patchwork memories, I find it hard to find anything more enjoyable than her books.

Reading Just Kids was an experience that felt as though my mind literally expanded, that the space inside my head became a TARDIS of information and creativity. So when I saw M Train was about to be published I knew there would not be anything more pleasurable at this moment than to read it (not even watching ‘Lewis’).

M Train is a journey through eighteen “stations.” It begins in the tiny Greenwich Village café where Smith goes every morning for black coffee, ruminates on the world as it is and the world as it was, and writes in her notebook. We then travel, through prose that shifts fluidly between dreams and reality, past and present, across a landscape of creative aspirations and inspirations: from Frida Kahlo’s Casa Azul in Mexico, to a meeting of an Arctic explorer’s society in Berlin; from the ramshackle seaside bungalow in New York’s Far Rockaway that Smith buys just before Hurricane Sandy hits, to the graves of Genet, Plath, Rimbaud, and Mishima. Woven throughout are reflections on the writer’s craft and on artistic creation, alongside signature memories including her life in Michigan with her husband, guitarist Fred Sonic Smith, whose untimely death was an irremediable loss. For it is loss, as well as the consolation we might salvage from it, that lies at the heart of this exquisitely told memoir, one augmented by stunning black-and-white Polaroids taken by Smith herself. M Train is a meditation on endings and on beginnings: a poetic tour de force by one of the most brilliant multiplatform artists at work today.’ GoodReads.

Anyone who follows me on Instagram will know how excited I was on Friday at the discovery that Patti Smith loves crime drama as much – if not more than – me. Especially as at this moment in time I am coursing my way through 8 series of Lewis. Having a connective with a book, or seeing yourself reflected in its pages is one of the best things about reading, and M Train was scattered with them. I was overcoming with excitement when she mentioned Morse and Doctor Who.

And all of this was planted aside philosophical musings, tales of pilgrimages and stories about her late husband, Fred. If Just Kids was an ode to her first love and best friend, Robert Mapplethorpe, M Train is a love letter to Fred, her soul mate.

Where loving Robert was an exciting (and skint) jaunt through New York city – where art was mixed with companionship. Loving Fred was a deep connection severed too soon. The difference between those we love as children and the love we find as adults.

Patti recounts many adventures and thoughts in this book, spurred by the closing of a favourite haunt. To quote Patti, it’s ‘an aria to a coat. A requiem for a cafe’. She reminds me of Joan Didion, but with a dreamy/hippy/Yoko edge.

– I love you, I whispered to all, to none.
– Love not lightly, I heard him say.

Have you read any of Patti Smith’s books? Have you read M Train yet?

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