Book review – A Northern Line Minute by William Leith

A Northern Line Minute coverFrom the very first sentence of this Penguin Lines tale by William Leith, I found myself utterly vested in the outcome. A smell of smoke on an Underground train? Few things can be more frightening.

And our narrator, a self-confessed tunnel-phobe, who hates to drive, fly and, above all, take Underground trains, carries us through a journey that verges on becoming terrifying, as he becomes more convinced of the smell of smoke, yet more determined to tell himself that can’t be true – he must be imagining it, or it’s normal, or… all the things we tell ourselves when our lives could be in mortal peril, but might not be.

Interspersed with his mounting panic, Leith shares more peaceful thoughts – of blue skies, shady parks and chocolate bars – but also more alarming ones – the scene around the aftermath of the 1996 Dockland bombing, and even images of a drowned woman from the book Chappaquiddick Revealed by Kenneth Kappel.

We are as much on a journey through the mind of an anxious man, as we are travelling on London’s Northern Line, and the fine crafting of it is entrancing and utterly identifiable. Even if you have never had a worried moment in your life, you will recognise the instincts in this man who would like to survive, but would also like to not draw attention, even his own attention, to the fact he is contemplating his own death.

Utterly gripping.

A Northern Line Minute by William Leith is one of the 12 Penguin Line books inspired by London Underground Lines. Available at £4.99 each.


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