Review: The Silence Between Breaths by Cath Staincliffe

Monday, 26 September 2016
Title: The Silence Between Breaths
Author: Cath Staincliffe
Publisher: Constable
Publication Date: 22nd September 2016
Pages: 272
Source: Review Copy
Rating: 3.5/5
Purchase: Amazon
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 am a huge fan of Cath Staincliffe's writing as she has this ability to create some of the most believable characters that I've read in a fictional novel, and the majority of her books usually feature a topical talking point and this time around it's the bombing of a Manchester to London train full of a variety of different characters making their way to the capital for a number of different reasons. The reader knows what's coming from the blurb and the outset and so it's not a spoiler to say that the first part of the book is of course the build up to the bombing.

We meet a lot of characters throughout The Silence Between Breaths and what I loved, if that's the right word, was how different each of them were. Instantly recognisable to anybody who has ever travelled on a train, especially one bound for the capital. I'm the type of person that reserves the same seat every time (as you can do now on Virgin Trains) and God help the person who sits in my reserved seat. I'm also the type of person to pay for a First Class upgrade on a packed bank holiday Monday because I couldn't stand the thought of sitting next to a stranger for two hours. What if they tried to speak to me? It's fast and it's convenient but I hate sharing a packed carriage with rowdy passengers and very soon I recognised a number of the characters within this book.

It's an extremely tense read because you know what's coming and we do get a little insight into the mind of the bomber who spends much of the journey sweating because of the uncertainty of whether the train will reach Euston in time for him to detonate the bomb. I did feel that there could have been a little more depth into why this character was the way he was. What ultimately drove him to want to kill so many people but at the same time having read real life cases of bombers and shooters, it can happen at anywhere, anytime, and by anyone. Obviously no sympathy is felt for this despicable human being but in the background we meet his family and see their reactions and I did spend a little time thinking about them but the story is very much about the passengers on board the train and how this bombing has an effect on their lives. The ones that survive, anyway.

On nearly every single journey I have made to London on the train there's been the same cleaner on board that train, walking up and down collecting rubbish. I always thought what a thankless task that mostly is (as the majority of people don't say thank you) and in this character there's a staff member on board the train who reminded me so much of this person. In fact he was probably one of my favourite characters to read about in the story. I don't want to talk too much about the characters in the story because it'd be too easy to step into spoiler territory but Cath creates such real and believable characters that when that explosion comes, be prepared to take a real emotional hit. I did feel genuine emotion for these characters, even more so as we follow them in the aftermath of the explosion.

If I had one small issue with the story it would be that I wanted more of the aftermath, and to read more about the characters and how they coped. There is some closure for those who survived but even after I finished reading I was left a little bit unsettled because I could believe in these characters and wondered how they were coping despite the fact that they were fictional. There was one character I especially disliked and it's extremely interesting how Cath played the storyline out for this particular character and I had two other favourite characters who even now I am still thinking about and I've read numerous other books since I finished this one. The Silence Between Breaths is a book that will stay with you, and it's one that I'll be recommending. It's also a book that will probably have you looking at each of your passengers differently next time you board a train, and not just checking for an unhealthy attachment to their rucksacks but looking at each of them and wondering what their stories are. Where they are going, what they are doing, and how one catastrophic event in their lives could change it forever.

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