Thirteen Stops – Sandra Harris

Before I even started reading this book, I was really taken with the concept of examining the lives of different people along the route of the Dublin tram. It felt like an admonishing reminder to us all, that we have developed into a people that often live our life by rote, with little thought about what we are doing and even less thought for those around us.

I tried to feel sympathetic for Laura at stop 1, although it seemed to me as though she was in a classic no-win situation that was destined to end in tears – her tears. It is of course all too easy to make that assumption from outside of the relationship. Ultimately I think I did feel for Laura, perhaps more sadness at her naivety, than anything else; I also felt sad at the ‘chip’ that she seemed to have on her shoulder with regard to relationships and feeling loved/unloved, going back to childhood. It felt as though Laura would be a psychologist’s dream client!

It fairly soon became apparent that rather than each chapter being a self contained story about a person who got on at that tram stop, the people at the various stops would all have some kind of connection – a kind of cross pollination. I really liked this idea and felt it was the portent of some very intelligent writing and the way that the reader got to see different aspects of the same story from an alternative angle, was very clever and made the book infinitely appealing and readable.

Suzanne’s story, for stop 2, gives, as I suggested, a whole new perspective on the story from stop 1. The way that Suzanne is portrayed makes her instantly likeable in my eyes; a loyal, family oriented woman – which in Itself presents its own issues. I felt nothing but empathy for Suzanne’s dilemma, such was the way it was depicted in her story. The story behind ‘stop 2’ gave me the first hint of the author’s sense of fun, and the humorous streak in this book, with the depiction of a writer giving a reading of her morose cat themed poem, about a long succession of dead pet felines.

Stop 3 brought to the fore the emotive topic of ghosting, which, whilst creating a great storyline, made me just very aware of how real and distressing an issue this has become for some people, with the advent of more technology. This chapter also made me think about unplanned pregnancies and the potential backlash surrounding abortion law in Ireland.

In stop 4, I felt that Nathan behaved true to form; Fauve and her flat mates had been right about him in the third chapter of this book. I felt so sad that Orla knew that her friends disliked Nathan, yet even sadder that Orla seemed to know that her friends were right about him, yet almost didn’t want to admit to herself what a nasty, selfish character he was. The way he behaved over the pregnancy test was quite frankly patronising and demeaning; the way he spoke to her……. The way her character was portrayed was sad – It felt as though she was desperately hanging onto the relationship just because it was a relationship. I wondered when she had last been single. In my eyes, Nathan went beyond redemption, when he basically raped Orla, after the altercation over the pregnancy test. The way Nathan was characterised felt like an example of the author’s very powerful writing, however despicable the character was; and I am in danger of running out of appropriate pronouns to describe him!

I immediately warmed to Donna and Mick, at stop 5, in that she seemed like a thoroughly decent person, having been prepared to intervene, along with her Husband, in the row between Orla and Nathan the previous night. Too many people would have chosen to just ignore them. Donna and Mick’s story involved going to see a solicitor and hearing the most heartbreaking story. The real tragedy however, is the fact that the story they hear is reminiscent of the kinds of real life stories suffered by many people at the joint hands of their families and the church, in a certain era.

My first impression with Maroon’s story, in stop 6 was that Maroon was a beautiful name; a word that I had not heard used as a name before. I had the utmost empathy for Marooon and I though that the ‘special’ relationship between her and Graeme could work well. The author also managed to capture my empathy for Graeme too – clearly trying to be his best possible self. Their story was a short excerpt, but none the less captivating for the reader.

Stop 7 introduces the reader to Graeme’s Brother Carl and his partner. As a reader, I was instantly drawn to Carl and his relationship with his autistic Brother. I immediately identified their relationship as a thing of beauty; the fact that Carl would do anything for his little Brother, was just so fascinating and I felt the utmost respect for the the author, in her portrayal of what could be quite a tricky alliance. Humour abounded again in this chapter, with Graeme’s interactions with his niece and nephews, and with his confession to his family; he was just so oblivious to the fact that his news could cause some alarm within his family! Full respect to Graeme’s Mother’s reaction to the news and the disastrous family lunch – I loved the fact that she just cracked up laughing! Regardless of Carl’s reaction to Graeme’s shocking news, he was portrayed as Intensely protective of his younger a brother and I had nothing but respect for this part of his character. Carl’s interaction with his old school friend kind of had me lost for words, but full kudos to the author for coming up with such a fun, original twist to his story! One couldn’t help but wish him well though, especially when he ultimately behaved in the manner that he did.

The eighth stop on the route told Liz, Gerry and Jean’s tale. In my opinion, women everywhere will empathise with Liz’s joy at the thought of enjoying a shopping and lunch trip in town, with a girlfriend. As for Gerry’s part in this story, I found the narrative of his behaviour utterly heartbreaking; beautifully written, but heartbreaking and hateful. If I were Liz , I would not stay with him and I would never forgive him. I understand that he would have been grieving in his own way, but that in no way detracts from his demeanour. What a wonderfully written, yet devastatingly sad story.

Stop 9 eloquently chronicles Jamie’s issues with his sexuality and the trouble he has with his non working partner. The way his situation at home was described, I couldn’t help but feel for him. He came across as a very pleasant young man and I thought he could do without the grief that seemed to mar his home life. His partner, on the other hand didn’t come across as at all likeable, although as throughout the book, their story was told in a most eloquent manner, although the end of this story came as a bit of a shock for both the reader and both parties concerned!

The tenth chapter of the book, told the story of Phillipa, who shared a house with Jamie and his boyfriend from stop 9, and her Sister Nicky. This is a continuation from Jamie’s story really, as Phillipa tells her friend what had happened in the house the night before. The previous night’s events were described in such a realistic way, that I genuinely felt for Jamie. Phillipa also came across as such a kind and empathetic character, that one couldn’t help but warm to her kind soul. Nicky has her own issues, and I felt completely drawn into her dilemma, which was so original in its subject matter. But oh my – the conclusion of this chapter was a total out of the blue shock; terrifying! <mental note of relief to self that I’m not home alone tonight>!

Stop 11 told the story of Michael, Philipa’s partner, and Melissa. I just hope my nerves can remain intact for this chapter, after the shocking contents of the last story! This story was as shocking in content as the last chapter – the threads connecting it to Philipa’s story were equally terrifying and beautiful in content. Melissa’s story was positively heartbreaking. I couldn’t help but wonder, how Michael’s promises to Melissa would ultimately affect the lovely Philipa. The author really outshone herself with this chapter and the last – the stories were like shining beacons in a sea of already outstanding content.

By the time I got to chapter 12, I was torn between the excitement of discovering Barry and Beck’s story, and their connection to the previous chapters, and sadness at having nearly finished the book. I felt ridiculous – that genuine feeling of sadness! I was torn about how I felt about this chapter. It was beautifully written, yet emotive on all fronts. I was torn between being desperate to read it and shying away from the sadness within. I felt further emotion at reading about Becks’ childhood. I felt very emotional by the end.

Stop 13 sees us going full circle back to Laura from stop 1, who is seems has been having a fling with Barry form the previous chapter. Again I don’t feel a huge amount of sympathy for Laura and her ways, due to her propensity for hanging around with already ‘attached’ men. If anything I felt pity for her.

I just loved the way each chapter or stop weaved a new tale, yet each story was still connected, almost like a relay race. If I was asked to make a picture to visualise this book, I would draw a large, but simple Venn diagram, with an ellipse to depict each stop, showing the little intersections between each story.

It felt like such clever, intelligent writing to me. I empathised with many of the characters, to the extent that I felt I was being asked to share their pain and their experience. As a woman I felt so much compassion for each and every woman that was wronged, such was the passion and intensity of the writing. So many of the issues within the book were common issues, experienced by women meverywhere, regardless of creed, but this in no way diluted the power of the writing. The book was beautifully composed, with echoes of Mauve Binchy’s writing, and the different stories for each tram ‘stop’, although separate, flowed as one.

As I finished this overwhelmingly good book, I felt the words ‘Please move down the tram’ echoing through my mind; did anyone know what it really meant?

To purchase this tremendous treat for yourself, please use this link:


5 thoughts on “Thirteen Stops – Sandra Harris

  1. I’ve just had a thought, actually! If you’d like to send me your email address, I could send you a free digital copy of the sequel, THIRTEEN STOPS LATER, and maybe you could review it, in your own time of course, because you’ve done such a great job on this one? xxx

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s