Book Review: The Travelling Companion by Ian Rankin



by Ian Rankin




The Travelling Companion is a novella by Ian Rankin, who is mostly known for his crime novels featuring his hero, Inspector John Rebus. This novella however is not quite in the same vein. It contains elements from Rankins distinct style of crime/mystery writing, but it is much more contained.

The blurb of my (gorgeous) edition simply states: A LONG-LOST FIRST DRAFT, A RECKLESS OBSESSION, A DARK INHERITANCE. The first line gave me all the information I needed to read it, and I was not disappointed. The main character, Ronald, is a literature student spending the summer in Paris, working at the famous Shakespeare and Company bookstore, before starting his PhD at the University of Edinburgh on Robert Louis Stevenson. I think it’s safe to say that a great many readers will find it easy to sympathize and identify with a literature-obsessed narrator.
In the opening pages, we meet Ronald as he seems to be somewhat disillusioned by his situation, which is different from what he imagined when he left Edinburgh. He planned to travel across Europe before starting his PhD, but Paris and working at the bookstore make him stay. His disappointment with the mostly deserted bookstore and his less-than-ideal living conditions seems to vanish after he meets with a collector who is looking to sell a few books to Shakespeare and Co. Ronald notices that amongst the books on the collector’s list, there’s the title of a Robert Louis Stevenson book that was never published, and whose draft was thought to have been burned by the author. The scholar’s obsession with the author is sparked by the possibilities of such a draft having survived.
I won’t reveal anything else, but after I read the last page, I saw that the publisher, Book Grail, had a list of 26 books, entitled Death Sentences. They describe this series as “A collection of original short stories about deadly books from the world’s best crime writers.” Even though I’m not the biggest crime fiction reader, I think I will start going through these, because I find the idea for this list so intriguing.
At 88 pages, The Travelling Companion perfectly entwines a metafictional love and appreciation for literature (particularly Victorian) in a tale about extreme passion and obsession. I really recommend this for anyone who likes mystery, crime, Victorian literature, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jackyll and Hyde, or any combination of the above really. It’s a very pleasant one-sitting read that will make you want to revisit all your favorite Victorian gothics. I don’t think there’s a better way to spend an hour or two. Particularly recommended for train rides or commutes. 



BA English Literature, MSc Publishing. Passionate about contemporary literature, noir comics, beautifully shot films, and whiskies that are old enough to order their own whiskies. Can bore you to death with La La Land songs, Hollywood trivia, George Carlin references, and extensive knowledge on Leonard Cohen.