When Zohra, a postwoman with a past that has derailed her life, is asked to deliver a letter to two brothers who time seems to have forgotten, she can’t help but be intrigued – especially when she finds out they live in a railway carriage (also lost in time).
Zohra has an interest in trains, is helping to restore a local station and train line, and an interest – it seems – in people who, just like her, have secrets. And the Greenwoods, Johnny and Nick, have secrets, a whole lifetime of them.
Johnny and Nick bury everything in a shield of anger at each other, they always have, but it got worse when – forty odd years ago – their sister died and their mom fell apart. Still only young, they were left to their own devices and to pick up the pieces. They didn’t pick them up very well. Now, as they enter their 60’s everything is about to change with the arrival of a letter from a woman claiming to be their long-dead sister. Can it be true? And if it is, what does that mean for the lives they’ve been living? And what about Zohra, is her past destined to shape her future the way that the Greenwoods lives have been shaped? As her path crosses theirs, changes may – it seems – be about to happen.
Writing this out, it all seems like a lovely story and it is, heartfelt and heart-warming in so many ways. Clare Morrall has built a wonderful, slightly off-beat, world, one where people aren’t quite what they seem and where they often hide their pain in the dull, day-to-day, routine of living. If anything, it was too lovely for me – this book wasn’t really my style (which I only realised once I started reading it) and I feel bad about that because it means my review probably won’t be as positive as others you might read.
Part of my problem are the characters themselves. No one is normal, everyone is a bit off the wall. It made it hard for me to focus on the story because I was distracted by their quirks. None of them were bad people, none of them were unlikeable – quite the opposite, but I needed at least one character to ground them, and the story, and I didn’t get that.
The second problem for me was the way the story wandered. Morrall writes in a way that mirrors her story, which is slow-paced and slow to build. Her words tend to wander through the people she is writing about, describing them in a little too much detail in places and then making leaps in others as if you – as the reader – are supposed to fill in the gaps. I’m not much of a one for too many words and there were way too many here (when fewer could have done just as well).
It’s a style that I struggle with, one that I find pretty but also hard to follow at times. In places, I loved this book, how it was playing out. In others, I was so frustrated by the pace that I just wanted to grab the characters and scream. I know not every book in life moves as quickly as the majority I read but here, the phrase “slow as molasses” came to mind more than once.
Somewhere halfway through I started to feel tired by reading and, whilst I wanted to know how it all ended, I also wasn’t sure how much I cared. Still, I did make it through – to an ending that was positive and life affirming and showed that we can all reinvent ourselves and it’s never to late to start again.
It all reminded me of The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry, which didn’t work for me either, but probably gives you an idea of whether you would like this book or not. So, a hard one to review – a well written book, with interesting characters, and a strong, positive message at the end, but just not for me. Sorry!
About the book…
In a field outside Bromsgrove, two elderly brothers live in adjoining railway carriages. No one visits and they never speak to each other. Until the day Zohra Dasgupta, a young postwoman, delivers an extraordinary letter – from a woman claiming to be the sister they thought had been murdered fifty years earlier.
So begins an intriguing tale: is this woman an impostor? If she’s not, what did happen all those years ago? And why are the brothers such recluses? Then there’s Zohra. Once a bright, outgoing teenager, the only friend she will see from her schooldays is laidback Crispin, who has roped her in to the restoration of an old railway line on his father’s land. For which, as it happens, they need some carriages . . .
With wry humour and a cast of characters as delightful as they are damaged, Clare Morrall tells an engrossing story of past misdeeds and present reckoning, which shows that for all the wrong turnings we might take, sometimes it is possible to retrace our steps.
Publication date: 8th February, 2018
Genre: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Note: I received a copy of this book in return for a fair and honest review. All thoughts, feelings, and opinions are my own.