The lives of three women are altered when a man dies on a commuter train.
Lou is paying little attention to the people around her; after all, she makes the trip from Brighton to London every morning. But then suddenly the man across from her is having a heart attack. His wife Karen is begging for help, but it’s too late. Everyone is asked to exit the train, and Lou shares a cab the rest of the way to London with fellow traveler Anna. The two strangers commiserate over the tragic event when Anna’s cell rings—it’s her best friend Karen, in shock at the sudden death of her husband Simon on that very same train. Anna returns to Brighton to comfort Karen as Lou goes to work as a youth counselor. The novel spans the ensuing week, as Karen prepares for Simon’s funeral and Anna and Lou, in their own ways, reevaluate their lives with this ever-so-sharp reminder of their mortality. Anna is a successful copywriter, but her home life is a mess—boyfriend Steve is a mean drunk, but she can’t imagine life without him. Lou lives a happy lesbian life in gay-friendly Brighton, but she hasn’t come out to her overbearing mum, and the secret is killing her. Meanwhile, Karen and her two young children are barely coping now that their family is broken. Anna supports Karen, and Lou with her counseling experience is there for them both. The novel’s strength—facing head-on the minutia of coping with a death—is also one of its failings when it occasionally reads like a self-help book. Sitting with the body in hospital, explaining to children about saying goodbye, how to reach out to friends and banish guilt—a week’s worth of it gets a bit too much. Nevertheless, Rayner never shies away from her character’s misery and ineptitude in dealing with the worst, offering a welcome dose of reality in the literature of female bonding.
Affectionately drawn characters lift a morose topic into a companionable light.