With reading Day by A L Kennedy [London: Vintage, 2008] comes my dawning realisation that I have been missing something. As my hero Richard Ford says of her, “This woman is a profound writer.” And yet, despite being aware of her, and now and again catching her sparky contributions to radio programmes, to my chagrin, this is the first novel of hers I have read. Mea maxima culpa. My bittersweet punishment will be to try and catch up in the months and years ahead; and tomorrow is another day!
Here is this young woman (young enough to be my daughter), born long, long after the Second World War, who has written herself into the mind of Alfred Day whom the accident of war has turned into a tail gunner in a Lancaster bomber. For an introverted, self-doubting product of a broken home, who may just have found love during an air raid, squatting uncomfortably for hours in a Perspex turret with nothing to look at but the tail fin and knowing that the price of survival is endlessly quartering the dark sky ready to fire his guns, is not what the sympathetic reader would have prescribed but Kennedy has complete mastery of her craft. She writes herself into his mind and personality as he flies mission after mission, chasing the elusive thirty which would have him grounded. We are in the tense final stretch of five.
Through Day’s inner thoughts and dreams, Kennedy interweaves the wartime story of his bomber crew, bonded by fear and adversity into a family, with his recollections of childhood and with Day’s experiences as a film extra just a few years after war’s end in a documentary about a prisoner of war camp. The narrative shifts seamlessly between them. By slowly revealing and bringing the separate strands briefly into focus, giving us a sudden reverse angle, a momentary extreme close up and a few magical dissolves, she has created a work of lyrical beauty.
This blog carefully avoids plot spoiling so enough of what’s in the story but readers of contemporary fiction will find in Day a profound anti-war poem that merits several readings.