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Just like in the movies…

August 25, 2008

Day by A. L. Kennedy

Not every day that you come across a novel with a second person voice, eh?   Before proceeding, note that I have used both “day” and “you” in that sentence.  This is a self-referential meta blog entry.

Let’s talk about the cover.  The US hardcover edition (see below) has a nice, vintage, tinted photo of a smiling, British bomber crew rolling out a big bomb, ready for loading on their Lancaster bomber.  Salt of the earth.  A monstrous “Lanc” is rolled up right behind them, its four big Merlin engines at rest (each one of them could power a Hurricane or Spitfire), ready for the night’s upcoming raid on Hamburg or a target in the Ruhr Valley.  The photo is dated October 18, 1943 according to the cover note.  It’s rather stagy and I think it’s likely that this bit of wartime happy talk was passed whole-heartedly by His Majesty’s censors.

The publisher selected the photo with some care.  The man bringing up the rear of the big metal drum of a bomb, has a nice David Niven sort of mustache (just like our hero, Alfred Day) and he is clearly not the upper class sort of bloke we see a bit farther up on the bomb, the men without the enlisted man’s cap, the skipper, our pilot.  Everybody looks happy.  Everybody’s ready for the mission.  Our pilot looks like a good man—I’d trust him to fly me over Essen and get me back.  Alfie Day, a rear turret gunner, trusted his skipper, and well he should have.  Sadly, they didn’t make it.

But our man in the rear of the picture (on the back cover actually), our Alfie Day, seems a bit detached, apart from the group.  He’s got an eye on his mates, perhaps wondering am I going to make it to thirty missions?

Yossarian would say of course not—don’t be a dope!  Cathcart will raise the mission minimum any day now.

But Alfie Day is no Yossarian.  Though he’d never take off for Sweden—he’d much rather have disappeared in London with his sort-of girlfriend Joyce, had a nice cuppa tea, an afternoon at the cinema—Day sticks it out until his last mission only to be shot down, ending up in POW camp.  But like the movie Groundhog Day, he relives the whole thing.  He returns to the camp as an extra in a war movie in 1949, using the camp as the location.   As such, the novel is full of cinematic devices—lots of flashbacks, abrupt crosscutting and voiceover.  And I believe it works.

Most American reviewers on Amazon have panned the book.  But they’re a bunch of literal-minded schmoes.  Kennedy has written a demanding book that twists multiple threads and narrative voices into a memorable, sideways view of well-trodden territory.

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From → Fiction

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