Published: 2010 by Picador | Pages: 408
The 07:44 train from Brighton to London. Carriages packed with commuters. One woman occupies her time observing the people around her. Opposite, a girl applies her make-up. Across the aisle, a husband strokes his wife’s hand. Further along, a woman flicks through a glossy magazine.
Then, abruptly, everything changes: a man collapses, the train is stopped, an ambulance called. And for three passengers that particular morning, life will never be the same again.
This book was a present to me from my mum after we’d noticed it in Waterstones. I must admit, if you’re not into emotional and quite complex reads, then this book probably isn’t for you. When I first began reading it, i was slightly confused, as the reader is bombarded by names and sights from Lou’s perspective. Lou is the woman who is observing the people around her on the train.
The opening to the book is explosive, complex and highly emotional. The scene is set very quickly so that the reader has a sense of the atmosphere at the time of this man dying. The description of Simon’s death (the husband who is stroking his wife’s hand) is explicit, horrific and for me, rather terrifying. The reader is made apparent of Simon’s heartache through Lou’s eyes. So, the entire event is detached but in such close proximity that it is difficult not to be shaken up by it.
I found the interplay between the three protagonists; Lou, Anna and Karen is brilliant. The reader is aware that the three women are going to become intertwined in each others lives, but i couldn’t work out how this was going to come together. The result was mind-blowing. I love the way Rayner developed the relationship and friendship between Lou and Anna who meet in a taxi on the morning of the death of Simon, Karen’s wife. They are the most unlikely of friends, and I enjoyed the way Lou helped the reader to see further into the lives of Karen and Anna. They way Lou and Anna eventually become friends is so realistic, but also unexpected. In the end, Lou helps Anna to see the mistakes she has made with her current partner Steve.
The main theme throughout the novel is obviously grief. The reader discovers the various ways in which the three women and their families deal with grief. First of all, Karen, the woman who was closest to the deceased seems strong on the outside, just to help her children get through the pain of losing their father, but we learn how crushed she actually is inside. Through the various flashbacks pigmented in the book, the reader is allowed to see how this bereavement has really affected Karen. It is truly heartbreaking, and if anyone has ever lost someone they were close to, they can definitely find common ground with her emotions and feelings, and day to day actions and thoughts.
Then there is Anna, who was the best friend of Simon and Karen. The reader only learns of her relationship with the couple after the death of Simon, hence bringing a shock value to the book. The reader also discovers the decaying relationship between Anna and her partner, Steve as the grief begins to take it’s tole on her. It is quite clear that Anna deals with the grief of Simon’s death by working through it, keeping her mind active. All she wants is comfort from her partner, but to me, the way Steve seems to deal with grief is by blocking it out through drink. Both of them are in effect, bottling up the grief because neither want to except the fact that their friend has passed away. This tension that builds up throughout the novel is eventually resolved when Steve’s emotions bubble over at Simon’s funeral. This portrays how Steve cannot cope with such an extreme, emotional situation thus takes out is anger and frustration on the people around him, which in turn makes the entire situation even more unbearable and upsetting. This then creates even more tension between Anna and Steve, as both of them are dealing with grief in different ways, and I believe that both of them are aware of their relationship becoming more strained. In the end there is a dramatic climax where Steve’s questionable anger problem escalates which in turn shows Anna’s short fuse about Steve’s drink problem. These two outbursts finish by Anna breaking up with Steve, and throwing him out.
The final person who is affected by Simon’s death, is the secondary school therapist Lou, who is also a lesbian. We discover another part of the storyline through Lou – her problem relationship with her mother. This is turns highlights her insecurity with telling her mother about her sexuality. Again, this highlights the theme of grief, as Lou’s father (who is deceased) had made her promise not to tell her mother about her sexuality, which immediately puts a strain on the relationship between her and her mum. This is finally resolved when Lou’s emotions boil over, due to her mother and aunt’s misunderstanding over who Simon actually was in relation to Lou, not a lover, but just another passenger on the commuting train. I think that Lou’s character shows how things should always be resolved between family members, and how a person should never feel that they can’t be who they really are.
Overall, the novel is endearing and extremely moving. It makes you want to have a good heart to heart with your loved ones, and maybe overlook some of those annoying traits. After all, none of us are immortal, and we should enjoy every moment we have with those we hold close. A beautiful book.