Publisher: Faber & Faber
Publication Date: 22nd August 2019
I had read and loved Louise Doughty’s novel Apple Tree Yard, so when I saw that she had a new one coming out it immediately went on my Most Anticipated Reads Of 2019 (Part 2) post.
I don’t usually include blurbs in my reviews but in this case I think it’s useful and important to see the premise I was so excited by:
Platform Seven at 4am: Peterborough Railway Station is deserted. The man crossing the covered walkway on this freezing November morning is confident he’s alone. As he sits on the metal bench at the far end of the platform it is clear his choice is strategic – he’s as far away from the night staff as he can get.
What the man doesn’t realise is that he has company. Lisa Evans knows what he has decided. She knows what he is about to do as she tries and fails to stop him walking to the platform edge.
Two deaths on Platform Seven. Two fatalities in eighteen months – surely they’re connected?
No one is more desperate to understand what connects them than Lisa Evans herself. After all, she was the first of the two to die.
I mean COME ON!
How AMAZING does that sound?!?
The book starts with this super atmospheric description of Peterborough Railway Station in the early morning hours. It is winter, so it’s still dark at 4am. A man makes his solitary way to Platform Seven, the platform which is furthest away from the station nightstaff. A place he knows he will be alone for sure.
But he’s not alone, Lisa Evans is there watching his every move, looking into his watery eyes and seeing what his intentions are. It is clear to Lisa that he is about to take his own life. Not only that, he is determined to see it through, unlike others Lisa has watched in the past, the ones who just can’t quite bring themselves to do it. But she did, didn’t she? And this man also does. As he falls in front of a speeding freight train, he is given the dubious title of being the second person in eighteen months to take their own life on Platform Seven.
From here, the station bursts into action and we see the tragedy from the perspectives of the various station staff. Dalmar, the somalian security guard, who witnessed the man throwing himself in front of the train. A memory he can never erase. British Transport Police Officer Sergeant Lockwood, who has to deal with the gruesome aftermath, Melissa, the station manager, a brisk and efficient young woman who has to keep things flowing despite the horror that has occurred.
And then of course we have Lisa. Lisa who spends her days trapped within the confines of the station. Observing both staff and passengers as they navigate the station, doing their daily commute and living their normal lives. A life which Lisa no longer has. When Lisa passed over she seemed to lose her memory, she has no idea who she really is. However, after the man has taken his life she is drawn to a certain young gentleman who she sees one morning in the cafe on the station approach.
She can see he is hurting, he is furtive, shifty, and obviously very upset. Lisa feels a very strong connection to this man. He seems unable to make it fully into the station, just as Lisa is trapped inside. This all changes one day when Lisa is able to follow him home, he has set her free from the confines of the station. She finds out his name and discovers he is having relationship issues.
Slowly but surely, fragments of Lisa’s own memories start to come back to her and she begins to piece together her identity. We then move on to a very distinctive middle section of the book which tells the story of Lisa when she was alive and her coercive, controlling relationship with an A&E doctor, Matty. I don’t really want to reveal too much about this section, other than it was my absolute favourite part of the book. I stayed up until 1am on a Monday morning (Fool! I know!) to read this section. I was utterly gripped! I felt so invested in this car crash of a relationship, it is intense, claustrophobic and utterly believable, I think that’s what makes it so sinister, to the point where you simply cannot look away.
The final third of the book ties together the threads of Lisa’s life and ultimate demise on Platform Seven. It is by no means a neatly sewn conclusion, and I felt as I read that there were nuggets of information, clues, facts being drip fed to me, rather like slotting the pieces from the game Connect 4 into the grid to make a line. I was grasping at these nuggets and keeping them stored in my mind as it whirled with all the possibilities.
We also glean more information about the man in the station that Lisa felt an affiliation with and his connection to the man who took his own life in front of the freight train. There are many threads to this story which would make it a perfect book club choice. I can see it prompting many a conversation.
Louise Doughty certainly knows how to tell a story and weave many threads together to make a thoroughly immersive read. Once you’ve started on your journey with this story the momentum takes you swiftly along, trying to keep your wits about you and make sense of what you have been presented with.
The character development is superb and we get to delve into the lives of the various station staff and get their take on the suicides.
As I said, the middle section which focuses on Lisa’s relationship really drew me in. A subtly coercive and controlling relationship with a man who on the face of it appears to be very charming and affable. A real dangerous relationship that affects all aspects of Lisa’s life.
Not only is this book a mystery to unravel it is a highly emotive tale of life and death. What’s important and the things we take for granted. Towards the end of the book there’s a real emotional scene between Lisa and another woman who has passed over, a woman who Lisa believes she saw through a window needing help when she was alive. I was blown away by this and got the absolute chills when they were both united in death.
If you’re after a genre defying read then I can thoroughly recommend this absolute gem. Louise Doughty has bloody done it again!
See you all soon.
Amanda – Bookish Chat xx