Platform Seven

by Louise Doughty
Platform Seven
by Louise Doughty

Such was the power of the title, the author's track record and the stunning cover for this book that I didn't seek out a review or the blurb before embarking on the first page. As a result, all the elements of the novel were a surprise. I urge you to take the same approach, but if you'd like to be forewarned, or want to come back to read my opinion of this book, carry on...

It's the early hours of the morning at Peterborough Station.

A woman, our narrator, describes the gloom and desolation of the scene and introduces us to the people who work here. She also tells us that a lone man is making his way to the furthest platform. She knows what he's here for but she can't stop him and as a freight train approaches, he steps out.

The practical implications of his action are clear, and are sparsely explained. The impact on the lives of the people responsible for addressing this immediate situation is less developed than I would have expected. Surely they would be experiencing their own trauma at being involved in such an incident.

But we meet Lisa. She is our narrator, and she is also dead. Platform Seven is where she died. She is speaking to us as a ghost.

This revelation made me pause. I'm not drawn to supernatural tales, and I was surprised at the author adopting this device. But I felt curious and confident enough in the writer to continue.

Our narrator Lisa wants to explain how this man came to take his own life, and how she lost hers. She wants to tell us about the impact of a sudden death. And she wants to introduce us to the other people touched by these events, working at Peterborough Station.

While Lisa speaks to us as a ghost, with a certain amount of insight only available to an omniscient being, there is also a large part of the book told in flashback, so it's presented in more conventional terms.

Lisa loved Matty, a charming, respected doctor. Soon after meeting, they moved in together. And little by little the coercion, domination and manipulation took over. This 'gaslighting' is terrifyingly and expertly described. I couldn't stop reading but doubt I would have picked up the book if I'd have known this was a theme.

Matty's behaviour led to Lisa being on the platform, and dying. Her death caused other people to suffer too - the lives of members of her family and her friends all took different routes as a result of their loss.

Interwoven with Lisa's recollection of her life with Matty, and her death, is her movement as a ghost seeking to uncover what led to the man taking his own life at Platform Seven.

This proves an interesting element of the story. Whenever we hear of someone who has taken their own life, isn't it natural to feel pity and guilt? If only our collective selves had reached out to the individual perhaps we could have helped them through their pain. But what if we couldn't? What if they were responsible for something so terrible? What if, instead of their death causing so much pain and suffering to the people who've been left behind, it brings release?

In addition to these two stories are observations of the people working at the station and these were fascinating though a little too scantily drawn. They proved a distraction to the main stories because there wasn't enough space to explore their lives adequately, and I felt they were too elusive and rather superficial.

There were many elements to this book that proved thought-provoking, and a few elements that were puzzling as I didn't feel they stacked up. It's a clever idea, and was certainly a page-turner. And Peterborough Station was a very powerful presence! Highly recommended.

 

 

Review date: September 2019