A Book as Quirky as Its Title
I’ve read some quirky books over the years. They’re books which you are not sure if you should laugh or cry and connect to while reading but can’t explain how.
This is what happened to me while reading Brendan Colley’s debut novel The Signal Line. I didn’t know at first what I was getting myself into, but was enthralled in from start to finish. With this book what I got in the end was a quirky read that has one of the most bizarre premises I’ve read in a long time.
Tasmanian Oddities With A Worldwide Cast
The Signal Line is set in Hobart, Tasmania. It follows the character of Geo, a musician, who has returned to help his brother, Wes, a police detective, with an issue and to sell a house. This issue is a bunch of Italians, who say they just rocked up by train from Italy to Hobart, Tasmania. And the catch with this; how did they get to Hobart from Italy by train? And why by train if passenger trains don’t run in Tasmania?
Right from this get-go I was steeped up into the mystery of how this happened. And it only got odder from there. Next thing I knew, I was on this adventure with a cast of different characters from across the world, hunting for a ghost train. During the novel, you get people originally from Italy, France, Spain, South Africa and Sweden all converge on the one house in Hobart, eager to discover this mystery.
Perhaps the most odd of these is the Swedish character Sten. Sten, whose name means Stone, has been searching for a ghost train with his parents on it for close to 40 years. This adventure had taken him across the world, eventually landing in Hobart. Sten’s character was well set up and, like the other characters in the book, you come to love him too.
With all this though comes to why they’re staying with Wes and Geo. Turns out they’re staying in their parent’s place, which Geo wants to sell. All these people pay their means by helping them paint the house to make it look nice for the real estate photos. And Geo wants this all done before he goes back to Italy, never to return to Hobart again. This is linked to the next big part of this novel.
The Tragic Tale of Loss and Music
While The Signal Line is a mystery story, it’s also a tragic tale of loss and of music. There’s a reason why Geo left Hobart in the first place, and it wasn’t to progress his music career. Turns out life for him there was traumatic, to say the least, especially with his father. We learn bits and pieces of this over the course of the narrative, before one massive discussion with his girlfriend, Alessia, when she joins him in Hobart.
This loss too is portrayed very effectively by Wes. His tale of loss though is far different from Geo’s. He’s lost his family because he and his wife separating, as well as his passion for creativity and music. He’s essentially become their father; a drunk with no imagination and cynical about everything. We notice moments of his former glory return throughout the novel, only for them to be destroyed instantly again.
All this tragedy is connected by one thing: music. Geo is a musician, despite the odds against him of it not being “real work” by his father. He plays the viola, which was handed down to him by his mother, and attempts to get through life playing it. He busks out on the streets of Hobart from time to time, which allows him to get that extra money to survive while there. Music is what connects Wes and Geo too, with Wes formerly playing the violin. However, his life became dull and nothing when he stopped playing it. This builds into his tragic background and how he became hollow, in contrast to the other characters. And the idea of music itself is what builds to some very climatic moments within this novel. These are the moments of great intensity while reading the book, as well as moments when you just want to scream and cry.
The Signal Line is a quirky read that brought out many different emotions in me as I read it. There were many WTF moments alongside some very brutal and tragic ones. It’s one of the most fascinating debut novels I’ve read in a long time and I look forward to reading more of what the author has in future. I recommend this book to anyone who wants a quirky read with a whole lot of character building.