The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Passengers boarding the 10.35 train from Manchester Piccadilly to London Euston are bound for work, assignations, reunions, holidays or new starts, with no idea that their journey is about to be brutally curtailed. Holly has just landed her dream job, which should make life a lot easier than it has been, and Jeff is heading for his first ever work interview after months of unemployment. They end up sitting next to each other. Onboard customer service assistant Naz dreams of better things as he collects rubbish from the passengers. And among the others travelling are Nick with his young family who are driving him crazy; pensioner Meg and her partner setting off on a walking holiday and facing an uncertain future; Caroline, run ragged by the competing demands of her stroppy teenage children and her demented mother; and Rhona, unhappy at work and desperate to get home to her small daughter. And in the middle of the carriage sits Saheel, carrying a deadly rucksack ...
I had to leave writing this review for several days as I wanted to digest the impact that this made on me so that I could give a heartfelt review. I'm glad that I did this as the book was still as emotionally strong as it was when I finished it. Terrifyingly realistic and unfortunately breathtakingly plausible.
Essentially it's about 8 people who catch the 10.35 Manchester Piccadilly train bound for London Euston except that for me it was 9 people who boarded that train and I was the ninth passenger. You don't read this novel as a bystander you feel you are there taking that fateful journey with them and live to tell the tale that leaves the kind of stain that you will never get rid of. I know if I now make a train journey I will think of Naz, Holly, Jeff, Nick and Lisa with their two children, Meg, Caroline and Rhona along the way. There is also an interesting secondary character who is Saheel's (the terrorist) younger sister Kulsoom whose account that day and her actions back in Manchester does in some way humanise the terrorist for the reader and the impact it has on his own family.
It is a skillfully written stark tense novel that is topical of the day and a timely reminder of the world in which we live. As the 8 passengers are introduced to the reader they take on very real personas some I liked and some I wasn't too fond of. All the people travelling that day are taking that train for different reasons and we learn through the introductions just why they boarded that particular train again highlighting that sometimes things that happen are just fate and it reinforced that you can never know what's around the corner in life.
We are propelled through this novel at the speed of the train, moving ever closer to the inevitable as the train eats up the miles and our terrorist is becoming ever more jittery. Saheel is on the train with one intention and that is to blow it up along with himself for the sake of Allah and as the train enters a tunnel and slows down to stop he does just that. We know that some of the 8 people will not get out alive and the terrible injuries that the others suffer as a result of surviving are just horrific and once the bomb goes off that should be the end of this gripping novel but in a way it's just the beginning for those survivors who are facing a future that will be so different from their past.
It was a gripping read that sadly highlights our modern world and its' troubles in that terrorism is a daily reality and like it or not we are all part of that reality being caught up in a misguided ideology that has no winners in the end. Powerfully written but hard to read in parts as so poignant in places that the reality of the characters having to become collateral damage is hard to accept and too high a price to pay for these sense less acts of terrorism. I have to give this 5 stars for the beautifully crafted characterizations and of both points of view of the victims and the family of the terrorist - this novel will stay with me for a long time.
I would like to thank the publisher for sending this in exchange for an honest review.