The CWA Gold Dagger Award 2019
The EU Prize for Literature 2019
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.
They have one shared interest, The Artifex, a children’s TV drama for which Fran works on set, and Daniel has been promised special access to the studio. 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. The acclaimed author of The Ecliptic writes a novel of exceptional force and beauty about the bond between fathers and sons, about the invention and reconciliation of self – weaving a haunting story of violence and love.
Wood takes the passing, shabby details of mundane landscapes and makes them jitter and throb with yearning and menace. A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better is his best work yet – a novel written from the gut, and with a correspondingly visceral power. A superbly unsettling account of trauma and cautious recovery.
[W]ith his third novel, A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better, Wood’s talent has burgeoned spectacularly. The book is a tremendous achievement, an unputdownable domestic thriller that is also subtle and moving ... That things will turn ugly, we know from the outset ... Such immediate revelations and portentous claims are high-risk fictional strategies. Following them, how can a book maintain suspense and live up to such ominous hints? There is no doubt that A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better does.
Astonishingly, none of this is melodramatic. Extreme events are made credible because they take place against a background of banality ... In fact, even commonplace features of the journey crackle with tension. Humdrum aspects of car travel are caught with effortless precision ...
Accompanying the acute descriptive detail is scrupulous and compelling notation of psychology. Every phase of Fran’s moral slippage, from the false bonhomie and the phony assurances to the alarming upsurge of mania and muddle, is disquietingly registered. This is all the more impressive since the narrative is filtered through a boy’s mind, so that mounting fear about the father’s violence is fused with pity for the son’s initial trust and subsequent appalled dismay ...
Remarkably, his masterly handling of suspense (menacing revelations ratchet up relentlessly) is linked to a sensitive treatment of emotion, especially about parental betrayal and the long-term aftershocks of loss ...
Applied to the author, the title seems an understatement. Travelling well beyond his earlier fiction, Wood has produced a tour de force that marks his creative arrival.
David Grylls, Sunday Times
Elegant and disturbing … accomplished beautifully … highly suspenseful … a novel of expertly woven tension and frightening glimpses into the mind of the deranged other; a worthy successor to Wood’s excellent second novel, The Ecliptic ... At the same time, it is an inquiry into how men might learn to live with their shadow selves ... [T]he implication is that the real achievement is to learn how to live with inevitable failure — as father, as husband, as man — and have the strength of character to try again, to fail again, to fail better.
John Burnside,The Guardian
The third novel from an exciting English writer still in his 30s, this gut-churning tale of a doomed road-trip begins sweetly enough, before baring its fangs ... A chilling study of male violence, framed by a horribly, almost unbearably, moving portrait of a dysfunctional father-son dynamic, it left me in bits... Disturbing … propulsive … A story that begins as a poignant, coming-of-age tales spirals almost imperceptibly into harrowing terror. Wood’s brutal exploration of toxic masculinity urges you on to the bloody climax and leaves you grateful for the palate-cleansing coda that offers a closing note of redemption.
Anthony Cummins, The Daily Mail
This is a novel about a father and son, and it will grip you and stay with you ... Fran is an expertly drawn troubled male: pride and swagger and resentments and wasted guile. We've all known men like him. They would have been something if the world hadn't stood in their way. This is the heart of a beautifully constructed novel: a portrait of a bad man, a very real, familiar bad man.
Phil Hilton, Shortlist
Wood’s third novel is a gripping work, his chilling creation Francis Hardesty leaving an indelible mark.
Alistair Mabbott, The Herald
A shocking account of extreme violence and its complicated after-effects. It is a vivid and unsettling novel filled with surprises and insights.
Ian McGuire, author of The North Water
Tenderly dissecting the limits of love between parent and child while wriggling with a rich, thrilling tension, this palpably atmospheric story found its way beneath my skin and now lives there. Tell anyone who’ll listen, Benjamin Wood is one of the best novelists in Britain.
David Whitehouse, author of Bed
A heartbreaking and heart-stopping new novel; a dark Northern noir that moves at breakneck speed but never fails to be tender and vulnerable as well as visceral and terrifying.
Andrew McMillan, author of Physical
Intelligent and gripping ... A sense of threat looms large. Wood thoughtfully teases out the complicated psychology of the father-son relationship ... we are appalled and transfixed by Fran easing into himself, becoming 'a brute' ... In this powerful novel about father and son, the author probes this vital relationship, showing how our children hold us to account, how we misunderstand what they want from us and how hard we struggle to avoid their seeing us fail.
Emily Rhodes, Country Life
Fearsome suspense ... an impressive exercise in mood and narrative command, with a freezing chill that takes some time to depart from the mind.
Tim Martin, The Spectator
Deeply humanizing insight shines through Wood's depiction of Daniel. Harrowing and unforgettable.
Booklist (starred review)
A harrowing, psychologically deft thriller ... building an impressively detailed psychological portrait of the characters ... [T]he ground has been laid so thoroughly, motivations and personal dysfunctions so intricately established, that the shocking acts of violence seem perversely comprehensible. The novel builds incredible tension in its gradual progression from discomfort to horror... A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better is spectacularly successful as a work of suspense, but it might be even better as an examination of trauma.
Shelf Awareness (starred review)
As beautifully written as its title is long.
Benjamin Wood is one of the hottest young British novelists. His gripping third book is about a father and son road trip — a week of aching unease that climaxes in horror... Francis is a masterly creation; mercurial, charming — and a monster poised on a knife edge.
Tom Learmont, Sunday Times (ZA)
Benjamin Wood follows up the stunning The Ecliptic with a meditation on fathers and sons, and the lasting effects of horrific acts of violence … I loved Wood’s second novel, and this is a completely different but equally stunning piece of work.
Stylist, Best Books for June 2018
[W]e soon find out in this chilling and haunting portrayal about violence and love, some emotional scars cannot be undone. This much anticipated new novel from the writer of The Ecliptic is a highly atmospheric Northern noir about the visceral bond between fathers and sons.
Book Riot, Exceptional Books for June 2018
Since making the critics stand to attention with the narrative force of first The Bellwether Revivals then The Ecliptic, Benjamin Wood has been very much a novelist to watch. And his third novel is the best yet. Exploring the bond between father and son and the persistent, purifying power of childhood trauma, A Station on the Path to Somewhere Better is an unsettling, evocative story of self-acceptance and reconciliation.
Wood’s outstanding talent takes a different turn on this (almost) unbearably gripping, disturbing and heartrending road trip. I couldn’t put it down and weeks later, it still won’t let me go.
The Literary Sofa