All The Books I Can Read

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Review: The Signal Line by Brendan Colley

on June 24, 2022

The Signal Line
Brendan Colley
Transit Lounge Publishing
2022, 304p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/}: Brothers Geo and Wes are testing their relationship now that their parents have passed away. Geo and Wes rarely agree on anything, especially not the sale of the Hobart family home. Geo needs the money to finance his musical career in Italy. For Wes the house represents the memory of their father, and what it means to live an honest, working life.

But then a ghost train appears in Hobart, often on the tram tracks that once existed, along with the Swedish man who has been pursuing it for 40 years.

Everyone it seems is chasing their dreams. Or are they running from the truth?

The Signal Line is a warm-hearted, unforgettable novel about what we are all searching for, even when our personal dreams and aspirations have collapsed: love and acceptance.

This is definitely one of the more unusual books that I’ve read lately.

Geo is about thirty and has returned from living overseas where he’s been for the past few years, to Tasmania Australia to see about selling his parents’ home that he and his brother have inherited. His older brother Wes, who is about ten years older than Geo, is not keen and the two brothers are basically at odds from the moment Geo arrives. They’ve never really been close – the age gap and the fact that they’re very different coupled with the fact that they had very different experiences growing up in the family home has led to quite a distance between them.

The same day Geo arrives by plane, a mysterious train discharges a bunch of passengers along a disused line in Hobart, who claim to be from Rome, Italy and that they boarded the train just a short time before. Geo, who has been living in Italy, is used by Wes to translate the stories of the passengers and they are all consistent and they are all stunned to apparently find themselves in Hobart. Shortly after that, Wes and Geo meet a mysterious man who claims to know someone that can help him solve the mystery of the passengers – a man from Sweden who has pursuing the “ghost train” for the previous forty years.

For me personally, a lot of the strength in the story was the way the author conveyed the story of Geo and Wes. This is Geo’s story, so we do see everything through his eyes – his relationship with Wes, his relationship with his father, the relationship and bond he had with his mother. Wes is a police detective and it seems like during the time Geo has been overseas, the two haven’t really been in contact and Geo is surprised at the developments in Wes’ life. It’s quite clear that Wes seems to resent Geo for leaving or for spending time and money chasing his dream, which is to be a viola player in an orchestra. He’s had a lot of auditions and does play with a quartet in Rome, but he wants an orchestra position. Wes seems to view this as an overindulgent waste of time and he’s also critical of Geo for the way Geo views their father, even though Wes had a very different experience in terms of his relationship with their father. Geo has left a lot out, perhaps choosing to protect Wes’ view but it leads to the two not seeing eye to eye on pretty much anything. There’s a lot of tension and arguments as Wes does not want to sell the family home and Geo is basically of the view of well, either you buy me out and keep it yourself, or we sell it. I don’t want it. He also needs the money to continue to further his pursuit of an orchestra position, which seems to only further make Wes resent that ambition.

I was intrigued by the ghost train idea at first – it seemed like it could go a number of ways but to be honest, the amount of random characters that drifted in and out of this story that Geo ended up inviting to stay at the house or ending up being connected with, kind of bogged it down for me a little bit. I was less interested in them and all their stories and why they were there (honestly for the most part most of them felt like they had no point really being in the story, with the exception of the Swedish guy and the guy from the bookstore). The deeper into the story of the ghost train and the calculations and the predictions and I began to kind of lose interest in it because I was less interested in when and where it would appear and more interested in the actual story of it but that wasn’t explored in any satisfying way for me. And everyone’s vague way of imparting knowledge and the weirdness of the journalist/investigative guy of many names outlived its novelty.

So for me, this one had excellent family relationships and portrayal of them – the stuff with Wes and his family and Geo watching all of this as a bystander as well as his own struggles with Wes, his unresolved feelings about his father, etc – all very good. And the ghost train felt promising when I first started the novel but it just didn’t end up holding my interest in the way that it probably should have.


Book #103 of 2022

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