A surprising book, an appealing story, and an introduction to an author I will be reading again. I loved the central device: nine characters each describing (in first person) a pivotal day, a day that completely changed their lives. The days are not presented in order, and that makes it a bit of a puzzle: I like the way each chapter (day) is named for each character, without any hint of time or relationship. We are left to make the connections ourselves, and for me that added an extra level of interest. There are signposts to help us, but the author doesn’t let these historic events intrude, other than in the case of the war, which is a central axis around which the whole narrative spins.
The characters are quite well drawn, given that each gets a voice in only one chapter, and is then at the mercy of the other narrators, not all of whom are friendly! A number of Goodreads reviewers complain that they would have liked to spend more time with some of the characters. I take this as evidence of the author’s skill. Just like favourite pieces of music leave you wanting more, a book that makes you want to know more about many of the characters is an artistic and technical success. Toni Jordan has achieved that here: I’d love to know Connie better, I want to know more about Kip’s career, and I want to find out why Frank ended up as he did. That’s the sign of a very fine writer: characters that walk off the page and engage us – whether we like them or despise them.
It’s interesting to compare this with another book I’ve just finished, Xavier Herbert’s Capricornia, a sprawling, rambling narrative that spans three generations, just like Nine Days. Herbert’s story leaves few stones unturned, few characters with anything left to reveal. It has some important things to say, but it preaches a little relentlessly at times. In contrast, Toni Jordan tells us just enough about each character to make them come to life, and merely hints at issues and leaves us to make up our own minds. Nine Days has the advantage of being a book that can be read comfortably in a weekend.
Compared to Capricornia, it is just a vignette, and is all the more appealing because of its small glimpses into extraordinary moments of ordinary lives.