REVIEW: PLATFORM SEVEN

Platform Seven by Louise Doughty - Dark night of the soul?

I like dark stories. I have no problem with light stories, either, but there’s something about a novel or a film that is unafraid of the night, literal or metaphorical.

Louise Doughty is one of the best novelists writing today, and she has never shied away from edgier subjects. Her latest, Platform Seven, finds her heroine, Lisa, in the middle of what is, in every sense, a dark night of the soul.

Literally, because she is both trapped on Peterborough Station, condemned to wander the platforms day and especially night – and also because she actually is nothing more than a soul. For Lisa is dead.

Worse, she can remember almost nothing of her past life. Not even initially her name. Not even how she died.

But when a desperate man commits suicide by throwing himself in front of a train from platform seven, she begins to suspect that it has something to do with her own death.

And maybe the woman who died on platform seven in suspicious circumstances 18 months before was her.

Brave

Platform Seven is Doughty’s 9th novel in an acclaimed career of which the pinnacle so far must be Apple Tree Yard, a riveting novel of crime and adultery which opens with what must be one of the most gripping first chapters ever written in the English language.

The novel was made into a successful BBC series in 2017.

You don’t create a CV like this without bravery and Doughty is not afraid to delve into the depths of what makes us human, whether unexpected lust, as in Apple Tree Yard, or guilt and denial in her 8th – Black Water – which I reviewed in March 2018.

Here she takes what begins as a rather unusual ghost story – narrated from the point of view of the ghost herself – and then bravely shifts the focus.

Because lurking in Lisa’s history is the attractive, intelligent, but dangerously unpredictable Matty.

Gaslighting

Gradually, as she regains her memory, Lisa begins to recall episodes from her life and it becomes rapidly clear that her relationship with Matty was far from healthy.

The scenes where Matty shifts from menace to gaslighting and back are bravely written.

Some years ago, I directed Silent Voices a TV film that dramatised seven true stories of domestic abuse. One of the key issues we had to deal with in the film was why the woman involved didn’t simply walk away.

Doughty is not afraid to confront this issue full on.

We are right there, in Lisa’s head, as she tries to come to terms with her own feelings, her love and admiration for this man, despite everything.

And her growing horror as she realises that Matty has taken a new girlfriend; when it becomes even more crucial for her to find out how she died.

The tension ratchets up inexorably as she watches the lowly railway PC Akash Lockhart grow suspicious of what had initially been recorded as a simple suicide.

Able to move through people unseen, and even read their thoughts, Lisa is however unable to directly affect events in life – or is she?

Emotionally right

Platform Seven is up there with Doughty’s best work. Beautifully written, strongly atmospheric, the plot is an intense slow-burn and the characters always credible.

As the novel heads towards its conclusion you wonder how she will find a satisfying ending, and yet she does. Both believable and emotionally right.

It would have been only too easy to finish the story in a way that was either flat or cheesily forced, but she avoids both traps with style.

Another gripping read to add to her lengthening list.

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