Book Review: A Station On The Path To Somewhere Better – Benjamin Wood

About The Book

For twenty years, Daniel Hardesty has borne the emotional scars of a childhood trauma which he is powerless to undo, which leaves him no peace.

One August morning in 1995, the young Daniel and his estranged father Francis – a character of ‘two weathers’, of irresistible charm and roiling self-pity – set out on a road trip to the North that seems to represent a chance to salvage their relationship. But with every passing mile, the layers of Fran’s mendacity and desperation are exposed, pushing him to acts of violence that will define the rest of his son’s life.

My Review

Lockdown and being furloughed from work has meant that I have more spare time than ever and therefore more time to read! I have a ridiculous amount of books sat on my bookshelves just patiently waiting to be read and I thought that this may be the perfect opportunity to finally delve into them. I’ve had A Station On The Path to Somewhere Better on my shelves since last year when I bought it at Forum Books in Corbridge, and I am so annoyed that it took me so long to read as this is a real gem of a book.

Narrated by Daniel Jarrett (formally Hardesty) it tells the story of a twelve year old Daniel and a road trip he took with his father, Francis in 1995. Daniel’s parents are separated and this trip is one which has been eagerly awaited by their child. His mother prepares him for disappointment, telling him that “your father does whatever suits him….If he lets you down, it won’t be personal. You’ll just have slipped his mind completely“, but Daniel is hopeful. The destination for their trip is Leeds, in particular the Yorkshire Television studios where the children’s TV series, The Artifex is being filmed. Daniel is a huge fan and this trip is not only a long overdue chance to spend time with his father but it’s also an opportunity to visit the set and meet the stars of his favourite TV programme as Francis works on the show and has promised him a guided tour.

From the off there is a mounting sense of impending doom. Daniel tells us on the third page, “I loved him, and it shames me that I loved him, though everything he claimed to feel for me was just an affectation or a gesture of persuasion. I accept that this is not enough to vindicate my part in things. Still, when I think about that August week and what transpired, I know it is the fault line under every step forward I try to make.” We know that something bad is coming, we don’t know what and we don’t know how, we just have to strap in and follow along. The tension is unbearable. In fact it is agonising to read and my heart was in my mouth on more than one occasion.

I’m not really sure how to categorise this book. At times it is a domestic drama; a father and a son he doesn’t really know driving through England on a blisteringly hot summer’s day. Awkward conversation and digs about Daniel’s mother and their relationship, hints at an unhappy marriage with infidelity, drunkeness and violence mar every conversation and thought. But then, at other times it is a study of a desperate man who is descending into madness. Francis is described as being two people; the gentle charmer and the distant, cruel man, his ex-wife describes him as being ‘two-weathers’ and you never quite know which one is closest to the surface. Daniel, cooped up in a car with his dad, just twelve years old and with no real understanding of the world is in a precarious position indeed.

It is beautifully written with the most gorgeous lyrical and literary prose. I was completely transfixed by the tender and atmospheric writing that belies the violence bubbling beneath the surface. The richly textured narrative is subtle and holds quiet power which entrances, draws you in and before you know it you are in its grip.

There is something about reading about crime or drama through the eyes of a child that makes it more terrifying and more unsettling. The gaps in knowledge and understanding allow the reader to fill in the blanks and the horror feels almost unimginable. Daniel’s trip with his father is punctuated by the audio book (on casette tape) of The Artifex, a story about a young boy who when he becomes seperated from his siblings in a forest is found by a woman who says she is from a different planet. This story runs parallel to Daniel’s and he uses it as a way to emotionally support himself at times when he is alone, sad or terrified. The Artifex is compelling and I fell in love with it and how it complemented the main narrative.

Overall this is a quiet book of immense power. I defy you not to feel like you’ve been sucker punched and put through the emotional wringer. I can’t believe it was just sitting there on my bookshelves waiting to be read, what a fool I am. I highly recommend it and hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Where You Can Buy It

A Station On The Path To Somewhere Better was published by Simon & Schuster on 28th June 2018 in both ebook and paperback.

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