Every day at 8.05, Iona Iverson boards the train to go to work. Every day, she sees the same people and makes assumptions about them, even giving them nicknames. But they never speak. Obviously.
Then, one morning, Smart-but-Sexist-Surbiton chokes on a grape right in front of Iona. Probably-a-Psychopath-New-Malden steps up to help and saves his life, and this one event sparks a chain reaction.
With nothing in common but their commute, an eclectic group of people learn that their assumptions about each other don’t match reality. But when Iona’s life begins to fall apart, will her new friends be there when she needs them most?
Thank you to the publisher for my gifted proof copy of The People on Platform 5, I enjoyed The Authenticity Project (reviewed here) and felt confident I would like this one too. What I hadn’t appreciated was exactly how much!
Clare Pooley has created a terrific set of characters all doing the daily commute to and from London on the Hampton Court to Waterloo line. Central to the story is the charismatic and somewhat eccentric Iona, a journalist – currently the Agony Aunt for a Women’s Magazine, but as a younger woman she and her partner (then wife) were prominent on the party circuit, writing the gossip column and celebrities in their own right. Feeling old and invisible she finds her role and significance at work gradually being diminished, herself gradually dismissed.
When the man opposite her on the train chokes on a grape she finds herself a new set of friends with the commuters previously only familiar by sight. What follows is a fabulous and wonderful group of people, all leading their lives, all with their own problems. The interaction and friendship that follows is tender and special. A group who would otherwise never meet bond on their work journey, sharing their troubles and helping each other.
Iona is our central character and what a tremendous woman she is, living life to the fullest but tinged with sadness now. This is most definitely a feel good read and I loved every moment of it. The characters were vivid – I could see them and I wanted to be their friend too! Definitely recommended – contemporary fiction tackling a range of contemporary themes in a sensitive and honest way. Just brilliant!
I particularly liked the forging of friendships as we go about our day. It made me recall how I used to walk my son to school and there was a collection of people we saw, people who we began to smile at and exchange pleasantries with, but people I knew only by sight and actually never saw again when my son progressed to secondary school. I do think these encounters are important, but in this story they develop into something very special and this highlights I think the number of people we see, who could be important and it emphasises the emergence of friendships based on nothing more than proximity and familiarity. Something that communities are built upon but is so often forgotten as we seek more common threads.
About the Author
Clare Pooley graduated from Newnham College, Cambridge and spent twenty years in the heady world of advertising, before becoming a full-time writer. Clare’s dark but hilarious memoir, The Sober Diaries, was published by Hodder in 2017 to critical acclaim and has helped thousands of people around the world to quit drinking. The Authenticity Project, Clare’s debut novel, was a BBC Radio 2 bookclub pick, a New York Times bestseller, the winner of the RNA debut novel award and a Babelio award. It’s been translated into 29 languages. The People on Platform 5 is Clare’s second novel, inspired by her fascination with inventing stories about her fellow passengers on her commute to work. Clare lives in Fulham, London with her husband, three children and two border terriers.