The brief description added on the Literary Review Calendar of ‘books to look forward to’ for August 2019 said:
‘Suicide at Peterborough railway station: a high-concept thriller from the author of Apple Tree Yard’.
When I ordered this book, I was curious about it having been described as a ‘high concept thriller’. I am fond of an edge-of-the-seat yarn, so the ‘thriller’ element of the description was what called to me while the ‘high concept’ element was anticipated to be Guardian hyperbole.
Even remembering elements of the story as I write this review leads my heart to race a little bit faster. It is not entirely pleasant but then, neither is the story, and the impact is a measure of the exquisite writing and perfect, subtle, nuanced story-telling.
Imagine if an abused and murdered victim had to understand her own story to be able to move on from being a ghost stuck at the place of her death?
Doughty tells the story of a victim of coercive control through the voice of Lisa who dies on Platform Seven – the ghost of the victim.
I was once fortunate enough to supervise a PhD student writing a research thesis on coercive control. It was an extraordinary work which gave structure and meaning to the singular and collective undermining and frequently life-threatening experiences of coercive control. This was especially welcome as it helped me to gain clarity on my own experiences of having been via a toxic and manipulative colleague, a victim of its cousin, gaslighting.
Doughty’s book addresses with needle-point accuracy what I learned from the contributors to my student’s research, and also from my personal experience: How, during the very acts of abuse the abuse is cancelled out, explained away, presented as un-challengeable and as evidence and proof that the victim is herself culpable, histrionic, irrational and deserving of what is happening. She describes the drip drip drip of techniques designed to isolate and marginalize the victim until she is, as Women’s Aid describe it, bound by ‘…invisible chains and a sense of fear that pervades all elements of a victim’s life’. For some, including many contributors to the student’s research, the abuse was literally life-threatening and included violence. My own experience was of mental well being damaging anxiety, confusion and damage to self confidence.
The reader experiences the terrible, dripping tension of the abuse as it unfolds from the early ‘friendly’ manipulation by Lisa’s on-the-face-of-it-charming boyfriend Matty to her descent into self doubt and the doubt of others about her mental health. As a reader, you want to shout to some of the (investigating) characters ‘it wasn’t a suicide on Platform Seven!’ and in that way, you also feel Lisa’s helplessness and loneliness.
Often the story is king in high concept works with less attention given to character development but it is not the case in Platform Seven: Each of the characters have a central role to play as the story unfolds and concludes and each I could readily picture in my head. Similarly the geographical locations are described in just enough detail so one understands the terrain and the story is enhanced. This is a well rounded and evocative text.
Without wanting to give away any story spoilers, I was a little disappointed by the conclusion which was largely achieved by an explanation from Lisa (the ghost) of ‘what happened’ but it did end as a completed story of hope.
It is such an accurate and chilling description of how coercive control develops and manifests it should be a text book and compulsory reading in any of the professional environments which might come into contact with people like Matty and Lisa.