The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson – a book of friendship and hope on a London Bus

The Girl on the 88 Bus by Freya Sampson

A bus, or at least the route through central London it takes, is an unusual setting for a love story – but this is an unusual love story. Rich in characters and with a seemingly effortlessly constructed plot, this lovely book deals with friendship and love of various types. It begins with a Prologue set in April 1962, but the bulk of the novel is set very much in contemporary London, as people journey on a bus which takes in the main sights and well known places in the capital, including crucially the National Gallery. In some ways the predictability of the journey makes meetings and encounters of all sorts perfectly possible, but this novel is based on one journey taken by Frank in 1962. He met a vibrant red headed girl, who seemed unlike anyone he had ever met before, and sadly since. He has been travelling on the bus for the sixty years from that meeting, whenever his life and career have allowed, looking for a girl who he lost the phone number for, but has occupied his memory ever since. Another encounter, with a despondent and desperate young woman called Libby, in 2022, sparks off a hunt for the original girl with a sketchbook. 

This is a beautifully written book, which tells the story of an unusual search from the point of view of a young woman whose situation could be overwhelming, were it not for the distraction of Frank and his plight. The story follows her reaction to being spoken to by an elderly man on a bus, which she finds significance in even when she has been rendered homeless and jobless by her boyfriend who suddenly announced their relationship was over. I found this a credible situation, and Libby’s feelings of shock and even guilt are understandable. The characters in this novel have such richness and depth, even though they may not be central to the novel. I particularly enjoyed the descriptions of Libby’s sister Rebecca, and her firm manner over her expectations of Libby’s stay. There are other characters whose depictions are generous and carefully written, with a real sense of life. 

The situation that Frank finds himself in is probably difficult to imagine in a world of mobile phones, social media and so many ways of tracking people down, but it reminded me that for so many older people,such innovations are tricky to understand. This book has so many fascinating things to say about community, about the proximity of people on public transport that usually means very little, but can take on whole new significance. It is obviously a heart felt book, as Frank is shown as beginning to lose his ability to cope and remember. Libby is also hurt and confused, and grasps some of the hope that new friends and companions can impart. Both Frank and Libby are struggling with their families expectations, holding on to the slim hope of finding the special person who changed at least one life. 

This is such a beautifully written book that has so much to say about the power of memory, of hope, and friendship. I found it a compelling read which carried me along as I was so keen to discover what would happen with each of the characters. I found the whole description of travelling on the bus enticing! I was so pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this fascinating and lovely book.and recommend it to anyone who enjoys positive stories written with real feeling.