Nobody ever talks to strangers on the train. It’s a rule. But what would happen if they did?
Every day Iona, a larger-than-life magazine advice columnist, travels the ten stops from Hampton Court to Waterloo Station by train, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she sees the same people, whom she knows only by nickname: Impossibly-Pretty-Constant-Reader and Terribly-Lonely-Teenager. Of course, they never speak. Seasoned commuters never do.
Then one morning, the man she calls Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. He’d have died were it not for the timely intervention of Sanjay, a nurse, who gives him the Heimlich manoeuvre.
This single event starts a chain reaction, and an eclectic group of people with almost nothing in common except their commute discover that a chance encounter can blossom into much more. It turns out that talking to strangers can teach you about the world around you–and even more about yourself.
Clare Pooley’s debut novel The Authenticity Project gave me all the warm fuzzies when I read it back in 2020. Her second novel, The People on Platform 5, is similarly heart-warming with all the feel-good vibes.
As with her debut novel, The People on Platform 5 has a simple premise: what would happen if you actually spoke with the people you see every day on your commute?
Every day Iona Iverson boards the 08.05 train from Hampton Court to Waterloo, accompanied by her dog, Lulu. Every day she see the same people: Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader, Impossibly-Pretty-Constant-Reader, Terribly-Lonely Teenager. But, like every good commuter, she never speaks to any of them. Until one day, Smart-But-Sexist-Manspreader chokes on a grape right in front of her. What happens after that is a chain reaction of human connection that brings together the eclectic range of people from Platform 5 in unexpected ways.
As with Clare’s previous novel, The People on Platform 5 deals with some serious subjects underneath all the heart-warming goodness. Smart-But Sexist-Manspreader, for example, turns out to be a Futures Trader called Piers who hates his job and knows his marriage is a sham. Terribly-Lonely Teenager Martha has been the victim of cyber-bullying at her school. And Iona herself is on the verge of being made redundant from her job as a magazine therapist, having been deemed irrelevant by her bosses and co-workers.
As connections are made and friendships form, these characters really come to life. I whizzed through the story, laughing and crying in equal measure as the characters face heart-breaking, life-altering decisions and work together to find solutions to life crises, employment problems, and relationship issues. Although some of the characters are not instantly likeable, Pooley makes them relatable and understandable so that you do end up caring about their wellbeing.
The People on Platform 5 is a warm hug of a book that is the perfect pick-me-up read for anyone in need of a dose of uplifting fiction. Fans of The Authenticity Project are sure to enjoy Clare Pooley’s follow-up, and I would also recommend the book (and its predecessor) to fans of Rachel Joyce and Libby Page.
The People on Platform 5 by Clare Pooley is published by Bantam Press/Transworld and is available now from all good booksellers and online retailers including Hive, Bookshop.org, Waterstones, and Wordery.
If you can, please support a local indie bookshop by ordering from them either in person or online! Some of my favourites include Booka Bookshop, The Big Green Bookshop, Sam Read Booksellers, Book-ish, Scarthin Books, and Berts Books.
My thanks go to the publisher and NetGalley UK for providing me with an e-copy of the book in return for an honest and unbiased review.
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