Source: Review copy, Netgalley
Publication: 22 August 2019 from Faber&Faber
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 love it when I go into a novel without the faintest idea of what to expect and then it confounds and delights in equal measure. That was Platform Seven for me. I’d decided to read it because of Louise Doughty’s previous work, so I requested it without even reading the blurb.
It starts quite slowly; all the better to build up a sense of wonder at who you are listening to and what her story is. Lisa is a very distinctive voice. It takes a while to realise that as you listen to her telling you what she hears and sees at Peterborough Railway station, you are hearing the voice of a woman who is no longer alive.
Platform Seven is a story about how this woman died, what is holding her in the station and how she realises that she has the freedom to do what she needs to.
Beautifully written, Platform Seven has depth and emotional resonance as well as being an atmospheric, contemporary ghost story that chills the bones.
Lisa Evans used to be a secondary school teacher. Now she is a ghost. Confined to the boundaries of Peterborough Station, she loiters around watching the passengers and staff as they go about their daily routines. One early November morning, she follows a man to the edge of Platform Seven where he steps off in to the path of an oncoming freight train. This is a journey similar to the one Lisa herself took not so long ago.
Lisa has names for all the people she watches and she passes her time by imagining their family circumstances. Doughty makes these characters spring to life as we learn from Lisa about the people working at the station, then the background to those committing suicide. As we hear about them, we watch the impact of the suicides on the staff in the railway station and on those from the emergency services who are called to assist. There’s a tension and drama to her story that touches the reader.
Lisa herself is more of an enigma, because, when we first meet her, she can’t remember much about either her life or her death. As she learns how to travel more widely though, we begin to find out a little more about her and her relationship with Matthew Goodison, a doctor.
Here Doughty’s writing excels as she slowly unfurls a picture that is both chilling and very disturbing. This is the truly haunting aspect of this story; one that stays in the mind longer than any ghost’s story.
Doughty takes her time laying out the true nature of their relationship and how Lisa ended up at Platform Seven.
This ought to be a dark and deeply painful book, but Doughty also has a lightness of touch in places which adds flashes of humour to an otherwise bleak scenario. Her writing is sure and sensitive and she brings a stark reality to her characters who feel so authentic. Though this is, at times, a difficult book to read because of its subject matter – and it is I think also slightly too bulky in the middle – it is nonetheless a book which speaks of hope and change and leaves us feeling a sense of loss and a ray of hope.
Verdict: A sensitive, beautifully written book about relationships, love, cruelty, and loss.
Louise Doughty is the author of nine novels, including the soon-to-be-published Platform Seven. She has also written one work of non-fiction and five plays for radio.Her most recent book, Black Water, is out now from Faber & Faber UK and Farrar Straus & Giroux in the US, where it was nominated as one of the New York Times Book Review Top 100 Notable Books of 2016.
(Photo: Charlie Hopkinson )
Her previous book was the number one bestseller Apple Tree Yard. First published in 2013, it has sold over half a million copies in the UK alone and has been translated in thirty territories worldwide. A four-part TV adaptation with Emily Watson in the lead role was broadcast on Sunday nights on BBC1 in January 2017.
Doughty’s sixth novel, Whatever You Love, was shortlisted for the Costa Novel Award and longlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction. She has also won awards for radio drama and short stories, along with publishing one work of non-fiction, A Novel in a Year, based on her popular newspaper column. She is a critic and cultural commentator for UK and international newspapers and broadcasts regularly for the BBC and has been the judge for many prizes and awards including the Man Booker Prize and the Costa Novel Award. She lives in London