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Leaving the Atocha Station

3.79  ·  Rating details ·  14,592 ratings  ·  1,574 reviews
Adam Gordon is a brilliant, if highly unreliable, young American poet on a prestigious fellowship in Madrid, struggling to establish his sense of self and his relationship to art. What is actual when our experiences are mediated by language, technology, medication, and the arts? Is poetry an essential art form, or merely a screen for the reader's projections? Instead of fo ...more
Paperback, 181 pages
Published August 23rd 2011 by Coffee House Press
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Stefan I thought it was pure genius: don't forget that Adam is still just a very young, almost neurotic uncertain, immature boy. I thought it to be very beli…moreI thought it was pure genius: don't forget that Adam is still just a very young, almost neurotic uncertain, immature boy. I thought it to be very believable. Luckily for us this insecurity and immaturity was described with such a mature voice. Weird and genius. I thought it was quite original to read about someone that would drive you mad if you met him in real life. (less)

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Average rating 3.79  · 
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Sep 14, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: american
The Artist as Snowflake

An American language-student is in Madrid on somebody else’s dime, living in a paradise of lethargy, artsy natives, and drugs. He is an intellectual fantasist; somewhat autistic when it comes to poetry; and somewhat narcissistic about everything else. He also has a young person’s discernment about what is important, which is to say none at all.

He claims to be engaged in ‘research.’ But since he lies, it’s not clear what this could mean. In fact there is more than a little
Paul Bryant
One of those memoirs which with a light dusting of name changing and event rearranging gets to be called a novel. Whether it is one or not is no longer a question which anyone asks. The autobiographical novel is a grand tradition* - this one stars a more than somewhat bi-polar American student (prone to lying outrageously for no reason and having wild spending sprees with his parents’ dough) who is the most cheese-paringly psychologically self-regarding a narrator since Henry Late Period James. ...more
Jonathan Ashleigh
Oct 07, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I read Leaving the Atocha Stations in a couple of days and am still running the story through my head. It has language strange to the novel setting but welcome and is a book I wish I had written for its sentiments about Americans. It reminded me greatly of The Sorrows of Young Mike, which also contains AIM conversations and is also about an American abroad. Each of the books are unique but they often bring up similar issues and themes. Ben Lerner has outdone himself with his first novel and if y ...more
Aug 24, 2013 rated it it was ok
No. No. No. Beautiful writing at the sentence level. Often funny. Too much meditation about the nature and meaning of art. I just hate those kinds of books. I like stories.
Ivan Goldman
Jul 06, 2012 rated it it was ok
What's curious about this book is the attention and adulation it's received. It's memoir dressed up as a novel that is the author's lengthy reflection on a character that shares many traits with the author. He hails from the same town, attended the same school, etc. This character/author incessantly lies to acquaintances for no apparent reason and then is nauseated. In fact, page after page the guy is literally, not figuratively nauseous or vomiting.

Many critics seemed to think this book was an
Jan 04, 2012 rated it liked it

It's been like ten years since I saw or read Trainspotting, but I remember being annoyed with the movie when I first saw it. The book had ended with a nihilistic pessimism that the movie kind of spun into a 'selling-out' of sorts (if cleaning up, screwing over your friends and trying to escape the zombie existence of a junkie can be called selling out). The young, angry and idealized version of myself kind of hated the ending to the movie.

As I made my way through this book, the voice of Ewan Mc
Lee Klein
Dec 24, 2011 rated it really liked it
Fiction that feels unlike fiction is my favorite sort of fiction. This one explores intellectual and emotional terrain related to sensitive experience of what's real and contrived, propelled by a sustained sense of non-fictional narrative reality accentuated by author/narrator autobiographical overlap. Seemed at its best when essayistically offering insight (not "indulging in interiority") about poetic creation/sensibilities, about reading poetry (Ashbery), and describing attacks on self (panic) ...more
Dec 27, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This book has two good things going for it: the narrator is smart (which is not usual), and his voice pulls off the "Humbert Humbert effect" of making you like him despite his being both a poser and a hypocrite.

Adam, the narrator and a stand-in for Lerner, a poet himself, has interesting things to say about poetry as the art of potentiality, as a way to embody the virtual, the "subjunctive": what could be but is not and will not. This paradox ("embodying the virtual") leads him to conclude that
Feb 11, 2013 rated it liked it
A little disappointing. I think I am getting tired of young super smart, over-educated young men who can't "feel"... The novel has nice moments though and the writing is fluid and elegant. ...more
Julie Ehlers
Nov 30, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: literary-fiction
Early in this book, Ben Lerner explains how you're supposed to read this book. On page 19, talking about attempting to read Spanish prose, Lerner's narrator, Adam, reveals:
I came to realize that far more important to me than any plot or conventional sense was the sheer directionality I felt while reading prose, the texture of time as it passed, life's white machine.

Since by page 19 it was already very clear to me that Leaving the Atocha Station would be rather short on plot, I understood that, a
That this book is impressively boring is probably the most positive thing I have to say about it. I found it vapid and remarkably without point. It is the story of an uninteresting, probably intended to be considered tortured, young American poet who pretended his way into a fellowship in Spain by stating his intention to write a poem about a subject about which he knows nothing. He has no intention of writing said poem. That this is the character is not, of course, the true problem with the boo ...more
Mar 12, 2012 rated it it was ok
I bought this book with high hopes -- from the description I thought it might have some of the qualities of Arthur Phillips's PRAGUE, but with a Madrid setting (resonant for me since I'm currently writing about that city, albeit in a very different era). I was, I hate to say, disappointed.

Perhaps I was missing a layer of irony, but I almost immediately lost patience with and sympathy for the narrator, Adam Gordon – a pampered pseudo-poet who is wasting a prestigious fellowship smoking dope and
I read Leaving the Atocha Station in Madrid, which undoubtedly helped me enjoy its tale of a young American poet adrift in the Spanish city. The narrator, Adam, is grotesquely honest about everything, particularly his profuse self-doubt and almost compulsive habit of engaging in completely pointless deception. At times this gives him a vulnerability that is sweet and endearing; at times it makes him seem an objectionable manipulator – sometimes both in the same paragraph. (And never more so than ...more
Oct 08, 2022 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-in-english, 2022, usa
I liked this less than Lerner's "The Topeka School", but I still enjoyed reading it for the most part. The question is: why? There is hardly any story and what there is is thin and often-read-before. The main character is quasi the author, on a poetry fellowship in Madrid, in semi-relationships with two Spanish woman. He takes too many drugs and doesn't really feel like a real "poet", he doesn't even seem to like poetry in the first place. We don't really get that get close to any of the charact ...more
Dec 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
This book is everything I usually despise. Too much drug use, very in your head wordplay, meta commentary on poetry and art. Yet Lerner’s truly virtuoso prose makes the despicable somehow compelling, and once you learn to laugh at (and occasionally with) our insufferable post-adolescent-poet-abroad narrator, the book is not only enjoyable but thought provoking and moving. Looking forward to the next two books.
Nov 22, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: american
There is just no way that I will sit here and shit on an author for no reason just because I wasn’t a huge fan of the book. I was thinking about giving this book a 2-star rating and changed it in the last second. I realized that a lot of the things that were turning me off about the main character were attributes that I could see in a present or past self.

And let’s start with that: the main character. Holy shit. What a weird, unlikeable sack of shit. He does almost nothing authentically, and eve
Nov 20, 2011 rated it really liked it
There are obvious winners in a meritocratic system - there are the chosen ones blessed with enough genetic and generational advantages to be comfortably pre-positioned over all competitors. There are real competitors who manage to figure out the Great American Alchemy of converting sweat to gold. And then there are those rudderless bastards who have no real sense of what happened, who faked compliance with parental and then social definitions of success without ever fully investing and were rewa ...more
Jeff Jackson
Jul 03, 2012 rated it really liked it
Well wrought meditations on aesthetics and the creative process wrapped inside a character driven narrative. Questions the existence of a "profound experience of art" while trying to both engage with and offer one. Recommended to fans of Geoff Dyer. ...more
Roy Lotz
This is an intriguing little novel. It concerns Adam Gordon, an American living in Spain (difficult for me to relate to), who is supposed to be writing a long poem about the Spanish Civil War, but who is instead busy abusing substances and pursuing Spanish women.

On one level, the book seems to be a character study of a man who, if not quite sociopathic, seems to aspire to be. Though he has pangs of conscience and moments of vulnerability, for the most part he is so concerned with making other
Apr 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
The narrator of Leaving the Atocha Station is Adam Gordon, a young American poet living in Madrid on a fellowship. He is supposed to be composing a “data driven” poem about responses to history but is instead spending his time doing drugs, drinking, falling in love (sort of) with two women, and trying to ascertain if it possible to be authentic, to be even real, or is everyone/everything as “fraudulent” (a word he uses often) as he fears. He is a chronic liar (he tells a woman that his mother, a ...more
Jennifer Andrews
Jan 06, 2013 rated it did not like it
I read this because of Maureen Corrigan's recommendation on NPR. I finished it only because it was relatively short and because I had to get it on inter-library loan.

The protagonist is such a cowardly, self-absorbed, ridiculous person that I found very little of this book to be enjoyable. I really don't know why it came so highly recommended. Very, very disappointed with this book.

The last sentence was so terrible that I actually laughed out loud when I read it. It seemed as if the author didn'
Sep 16, 2014 rated it liked it
One day I will have a daughter, and on the eve of her bat mitzvah I will give her this book. I will say, "Read this, child, and learn something very important: learn why you should never date a poet." ...more
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, fiction, ebooks
I came to Leaving the Atocha Station via a recommendation on The Millions blog from Paul Murray, author of two recent favorites, Skippy Dies and An Evening of Long Goodbyes. Since his books were so great it only stands to reason that his recommendation must be tinged with equal brilliance, right?

Since Murray started this for me, here's his recommendation:

My two favourite novels this year, though, were debuts. Leaving the Atocha Station is the story of a gifted but disillusioned young poet on a f
May 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
The best, most engrossing recent novel I've read in a while. Highly recommended.

In graduate school I tested out different terms to describe the kind of fiction I was trying to write, besides "experimental fiction". One was "associative fiction." This meant stories that derived their power not primarily from narrative urgency but from intuitive leaps, correspondences or simply readerly trust in/curiosity about the movements of the authorial mind. Associative poetry, I'd say, is just another way o
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
Adam Gordon is a poet who seems to hate poetry. He’s gotten himself a pretty sweet fellowship, a year-long stay in Spain with a project, that, when explained, rings sort of false. He’s got a flexible relationship with truth and suffers no shame for wiping spit under his eyes and pretending his mother has died to gain sympathy. There is no crisis of conscience when he takes a tragic story his friend tells and makes it his own meaningful tale. He’s also got a steady diet of white pills and spliffs ...more
David M
Jan 12, 2016 rated it liked it
What if, instead of being deranged, the underground man were merely bored and cynical?

This is an enervating read. Several times in its short span I considered quitting. Very little happens, and I almost found myself wishing for even less. Because what human drama there is is incorrigibly - perhaps defiantly - banal. I sometimes take banality more personally than I probably should. I couldn't shake the feeling that the narrator-hero was representative in some way, the voice of a generation, or on
Dec 02, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
Ask my wife: she will tell you that I have a pretty high pretentiousness threshold. There are quite a few passages in this book that made even me cringe. That said, there is also a lot of excellent writing here, so my 3 star rating is based on a mixture of times when I thought "Nooooooo..." and times when I thought "Yes!!!!!".

The definitely-not-a-hero of the book spends some time in Madrid on a poetry fellowship. The book is the story of that time and involves quite a lot of alcohol and other dr
Esther Espeland
Dec 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Okay tbh I love books like this that have no plot and are about the meaning of art and I would have like this more if it hadn’t been so insufferably dude heavy
Aug 31, 2014 rated it it was ok
I don’t live in NYC anymore, so I don’t read the Sunday NYT Book Review on Saturday night, nor do I read poetry, for which author Ben Lerner is famous. As a result, I had never heard of him until recently, when "Leaving the Atocha Station" received favorable references among the laudatory reviews for Lerner's newest book, "10:04: A Novel."

I also bought "Leaving the Atocha Station" because the title meant something to me. Our family lived in Spain in 2004: on March 11th, after I dropped our daug
Marc Nash
Jun 24, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Despite being a pretty unlikeable protagonist, he is redeemed as a worthwhile character study in dissonance and with meditations on art and particularly its relationship to both politics and reality/authenticity.

The protag is an American would-be poet abroad in Madrid on a fellowship to do some serious research, but he is just there for the experience. His research is non-existent, his poetry pretty fake as he lifts from existing work, while he is self-medicating. There is also a level of remove
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Ben Lerner is an American poet, novelist, and critic. He was awarded the Hayden Carruth prize for his cycle of fifty-two sonnets, The Lichtenberg Figures. In 2004, Library Journal named it one of the year's twelve best books of poetry. The Lichtenberg Figures appeared in a German translation in 2010, for which it received the "Preis der Stadt Münster für internationale Poesie" in 2011, making Lern ...more

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