Sunday 1 September 2013

All Aboard

The Sleeper by Emily Barr
Published by Headline

Lara Finch is living a lie.  Everyone thinks she has a happy life in Cornwall, married to the devoted Sam, but in fact she is desperately bored.  When she is offered a new job that involves commuting to London by sleeper train, she meets Guy and starts an illicit affair.

But then Lara vanishes from the night train without a trace.  Only her friend Iris disbelieves the official version of events, and sets out to find her.

For Iris, it is the start of a voyage that will take her further than she’s ever travelled and on to a trail of old crimes and dark secrets.

For Lara, it is the end of a journey that started a long time ago.  A journey she must finish, before it destroys her….

She should have been back two hours ago.
   A person could not disappear from a train in the middle of the night, but apparently, she had.  She got on at Paddington (as far as we knew), but she did not get off at Truro.
   ‘I’m sure she’s fine,’ I told him.  My words hung in the air, improbable and trite.  I cast around for an explanation.  Once you discounted amnesia and sleepwalking, there were really only two, and neither of them would give her husband any comfort.
   ‘I hope so.’  His face was crumpled and his eyes seemed to have shrunk back under slightly hooded lids.  Everything was sagging as, gradually, he stopped being able to pretend that she might be about to walk in through the door.  His face was, somehow, at once both red and grey, patchy and uneven.
   I had no idea what to do, and so, once again, I started to make coffee.  He was looking at his phone, checking again for messages that might, somehow, have arrived by stealth, even though he had turned the volume right up and called it from the landline, just to see.
   ‘Next train in seven minutes,’ he reported.  I set the coffee pot on the stove, lit the gas under it and left it.  I opened a few cupboard doors, looking for something easy, something that he might eat without noticing it.
   It was strange being in someone else’s kitchen, flung into what I feared was the very early stage of the total breakdown of the life of a man I didn’t even know.  He was halfway off the cliff already, clinging on with his fingers to a flimsy clump of grass.
   I put some custard creams on a plate.

With twelve novels under her belt already, Emily Barr enters the world of the commuter with her novel of strangers on the night train travelling from sleepy Cornwall to the busy city of London.  Lara has given up her city job to move south to focus on her marriage and having a baby.  With failed IVF treatments behind her, and a host of bills to pay, Lara accepts a temporary position in London that means she will have to take the sleeper train to London every Sunday, returning in the early hours of Saturday morning.  Little do either her, or her husband Sam realise what this will entail.  While Sam is pining away for her, Lara has created a new life for herself, one that now involves Guy, a married man who she meets on the train.  In love, and determined to tell their partners about their relationship, Lara and Guy make what is to be their final return journey to Cornwall.  But then tragedy strikes and none of their lives will ever be the same again.

Having discovered Emily Barr shortly after her first novel Backpack was published, and having read every one since, it was probably inevitable that I enjoyed this latest book.  Actually I loved it; the characters, the way she describes Falmouth, her current hometown, with such detail and of this incredible world of the sleeper train, for it is in itself like entering a different world.  The twists and turns that are incorporated into her writing, plus the inevitable element of travel are what make Emily Barr’s novels distinctively her own.  She is a seasoned traveller, and this is by all means apparent when reading any of her books. 

The Sleeper is an easy read but that’s because it is a real page-turner.  I read it in just two days and couldn’t get enough of it.  I loved the character of Iris, Lara’s only friend in Cornwall, who lives this reclusive life in a ramshackle cottage with her mysterious boyfriend, and that of Olivia, Lara’s sister, who is the polar-opposite of her, and harbours a deep hatred of her sibling.  I challenge you to read The Sleeper this summer and not to gasp out loud as the twists and turns of the tale are slowly wrapped together, as I did!

One more day of the holidays to go - where did the time fly?  Off to try to make chocolate bread from my Apples for Jam book, but I'm not sure I have the right yeast!!!

G x


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