- Book: Platform Seven
- Location: Peterborough
- Author: Louise Doughty
When I used to travel down the East Coast Main Line (as it was in those days, now LNER, through multiple reincarnations), with children in tow, the train would always stop briefly at Peterborough Station. It is a veritable hub of train activity. Apart from calling it Peanut Butter station, there was something about the light on the uncovered platforms that made the passengers milling about seem to appear in sharp relief. We would always invent stories about the people waiting – a spy here, a doctor there, a thief hidden behind the advertising hoarding and maybe a police officer about to arrest a vagabond.
So, what is it about this particular station that invites storytelling? Who knew it had story-filled lay lines ? And in Platform Seven (a platform that is a relatively new addition to the station apparently) there is plenty of imagination folded into the pages of this well written novel.
Lisa is a ghostly figure who lost her life just under 2 years ago on the tracks of Platform Seven. She now inhabits the station in a state of consciousness, patrolling the people who inhabit the station, monitoring the situations that arise when waves of people plough through a station concourse. She is stuck there. But why is she stuck there?
The first third portrays her sad and lonely existence (is that the right word, does a ghost “exist”?). She expatiates her detailed observations and these are often beautifully drawn, just the everyday humdrum that is station life. It can at times feel a little slow and consequently some readers may drop out at this point. The second section details her human life as was, as she embarks on a relationship with Matty, who happens to be a venerated doctor based at the local hospital. And it is here that the reader understands the powerful nature of an intimate, adult relationship which can become very skewed through pernicious and insidious abuse. The effects are immense. The last section goes back to her phantom self, now liberated from the confines of the station and enabled to explore further afield.
This is a novel that makes for an interesting construct. It ponders the nature of a purgatorial afterlife – although at times it can feel a bit woolly – but it gets into its stride when describing the intricacies of the relationship between Lisa and Matthew. It also looks at the effect of suicide on the wider community, how many people inevitably do become involved in the aftermath and the toll it can take on individuals who remain in the world. Lisa can also observe the life that comes after her demise. The story is excellent on people and setting and offers readers a chilling frisson, a read, poised on the knife-edge of life.
This is the author’s ninth novel and makes for a satisfying read after the hugely popular Apple Tree Yard.