Day by A L Kennedy

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Day by A L Kennedy

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: This book truly pitches you into the nasty, arse-end of war. Rendered unavoidable, harsh and intrusive by a partly second person narrative, it's striking and affecting with an embittered, lost, angry central character. But it's not easy to read.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 288 Date: April 2007
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
ISBN: 978-0224077866

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Alfred F Day was a gunner in a Lancaster bomber during World War II. He was part of a crew and the crew was everything. Set apart from everyday life and dependent on one another for survival, the crew developed camaraderie, its own slang, its own songs and rituals. Alfie's identity has come to be intrinsic to the crew's identity. This particular barrack room is very hard to let go, even when death intervenes. So, four years after the war is over and four years after Alfie's spell as a prisoner of war has come to an end, he still hasn't adjusted to peace, or to individuality. Perhaps it wouldn't have been so bad if his home background had been a happier one, if he hadn't run to war, rather than from it.

So, when Alfie gets an offer to recreate his war experience as an extra in a film, he returns to Germany. Crippled by the guilt of the living in the shadows of the dead, he attempts to recreate his lost identiy. He recalls his abusive home life, his relationship with a woman, the intense experience of fighting in a tightly knit group and the bereaved days as a prisoner.

Day is a challenging read in many ways, not least because of its shifting voice. Alfie's story comes at you, not to you, in first, second and third persons, shifting around from voice to voice restlessly. The second person is a rude, aggressive, intrusive form and it drags you in to Alfie's world whether you want to go or not. It doesn't allow you to relax, even for a moment. It's a stroke of genius - the second person narrative, I suppose, is a stylistic cipher for war - you're in a place you don't want to be, but you're in it, like it or not. Do you see what I mean? Genius it might be, feel Alfie's pain and passion you might, but you might find that reading Day becomes an accomplishment rather than a pleasure. I didn't mind this; I was so bowled over by the boldness, I thought it was worth any amount of effort.

There's a symphony of passion, pain, bitterness, cameraderie and intensity in Day. It's written by someone technically and thematically at the top of the tree. It's not easy to read, but it's not intended to be. Day is an unashamed challenge to you to step up to the plate.

William Boyd's Restless is a very different take on an individual's return to experiences in World War II. You might also enjoy The Berlin Crossing by Kevin Brophy.

Booklists.jpg Day by A L Kennedy is in the Top Ten War Novels.

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