Day by Michael Cunningham

I have just finished binge watching One Day on Netflix, the story of a boy and a girl who meet on the 15th of July as they finish university and then follows them on that day every year for the next 10 to 12 years. It’s a great structure made for a series. A film was made many years ago but it wasn’t very good. And so, this book is structured in a similar way where we meet a family on the 5th of April 2019 and then on 2020 and 2021 so this book takes in the Covid pandemic, a before, during and after if you like and is an exploration of one family during these times. A true pandemic novel.

This is an extended family with Lisa , Dan her partner, Robbie who is Lisa’s brother and Lisa and Dan’s children Nathan and Violet. Then there are Chess and Garth, Dan’s brother, and their baby Odin. With all of these people, Robbie is the lynch pin, someone everyone loves and who makes the world go round by understanding everyone as an individual. It all seems to go horribly wrong when Robbie is asked to move out of the family home because Nathan needs his own bedroom and the only space is in the attic where Robbie is living. In truth the marriage of Dan and Lisa is stuttering before this but it seems to be a catalyst. Robbie then travels to Iceland and gets stuck there during the lockdown in a cabin, miles away from anywhere on his own.

This is not a book about what was going on in the outside world but one that focuses on the internal worlds of the family as it breaks down and why. Robbie and Lisa create a third sibling, the brother they never had, and make an instagram account for him and post to it regularly with images and ideas ‘borrowed’ from around the internet. He is a 30ish years old man named Wolfe (I have read that there are strong connections between Cunningham and Woolfe), a paediatrician, stylish with his life ‘together’ and probably someone both Lisa and Robbie want to fall in love with. I found this part of the novel the hardest to get to grips with why it was included.

Disappointment in mid-life looms large but there is always Violet, the daughter who ‘sees’ things and understands way more than her six years might lead us to expect. She is her own person in her yellow dress that her mother keeps telling her is a difficult colour to wear, as if that matters, and one who has to be obeyed. With the parents engaged in distancing themselves from each other, neither has the time or inclination to talk to their children, to relieve their anxieties or even to check up on what is really going on. Lockdowns were a time of great stress even when things were fine but for anyone who was in a less than wonderful situation, you were trapped.

I’m not entirely sure what the message of this book is and the role that the pandemic plays in it. There is no happy ending just a glimmer of hope so this book could be classed as a tragedy. It is extremely well-written, the sentences just flow but what is it saying? Something about parents and parenting under stress?

If you are interested in books written about pandemic times, this list might be interesting.

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