A L Kennedy read from her recently published novel at the 2006 Edinburgh festival.

The extract was memorable. We are in the London Blitz. Alfred Day has just met Joyce in a bomb shelter but Joyce is feeling claustrophobic. The airraid is in progress yet Joyce asks Day to escort her home.

She brushes his hand, which stings, or lights, or twitches, he doesn’t know which without looking and he doesn’t look and she tells him, “You really don’t mind? I do realise it’s an imposition.”
His head still swinging back and forth without him and that blasted old woman tutting and acting as if she’s outraged, when there is nothing to be outraged about.
Joyce again, insisting gently, “Because I’d probably get out now, if we were going.”
And he stands and his leys are unhelpful and he follows Joyce, because he can’t do otherwise.
Should have stayed where I was. Stayed safe.
But I couldn’t.
Not in a million years.

A short passage which evokes an atmosphere, mood and danger (both physical and sexual). Also the damaged and disconnected existence of Alfred Day. It was enough to add this to the read immediately pile once the the novel was finally published – finally being the key for ALK also read from this novel in at 2005’s festival. This leads me to surmise that she had difficulties in completing the novel …. difficulties she has not fully resolved.

Alfred Day’s traumatic family life renders him damaged goods before he becomes a WWII tail-gunner. After quite a lengthy set of missions, he is eventually shot down and incarcerated in a German POW camp. After the war he becomes an extra in a film set in a German POW camp. The echoes of the past are too much and his mind begins to disintegrate. So far, so good but for this reader at least, there’s not enough differential between the parallel tales and, I found it really frustrating constantly having to locate the time and place of Day’s musings.

Add to this the narrative style. The short clipped phrases. The quasi stream of consciousness. Broken sentences. Fractured thoughts and the endless lists over 279 pages and the power of the passage quoted above is quite simply lost in brouhaha of words ….

which is a shame because A L Kennedy does have a tale to tell about the winners and losers of war. I’m not too worried that much of it is borrowed from Catch-22 (the mission counting) or Slaughterhouse-5 (the allied fire bombings of Germany) for these familiar compass-settings held the novel together for me. Again it’s unfortunate that ALK doesn’t capitalise on the originalities of her tale.

Amazon reviews to-date have been unanimous in their ratings, admiring the novel for the lyricism of its narrative voice; poetic qualities which can only be said to have irritated the living daylights out of me. I finished the novel by reducing it to 5-page chunks. My own subjective star-rating system gives to dodgy novels and to novels which are both good and enjoyable. Whilst Day is better than dodgy, I didn’t enjoy it and that puts it firmly in the 1/2 bracket.