In a novel set in the years after World War II, occasional flights of poetry can’t compensate for a lack of narrative momentum.
For better and worse, the latest from Glasgow resident Kennedy (Paradise, 2005) takes place entirely within the mind of Alfred Day, formerly a sergeant and tail gunner in the RAF, who has been trying to come to terms with the profound changes that the war has wreaked within him. Somehow, Day has become an extra in a movie about prisoners of war, evoking memories of the traumatic experiences he endured and the events leading up to them. A nondescript Everyman—his name shortened to A. Day, as if signifying the everydayness of human experience—he has nonetheless survived an extraordinary ordeal. His movie experience blurs in his mind with the war, as he ponders the vagaries of fate, how others close to him, both in and out of battle, died, while he somehow survived. He also ponders the vagaries of love, with a woman named Joyce who is so vividly idealized in his mind—“the way she’s shining and naked and naked and shining, the way she is alight”—that the reader wonders how she ever became involved with someone so ordinary. A married woman, Joyce had a soldier husband who went missing in action. Then Day himself was taken prisoner, and whatever dramatic tension the novel sustains concerns the fate of their romance. As his mind wanders from present to past, he conjures memories of his beloved mother, his estranged father, the fish shop where he worked with his father before the war, the bookshop where he worked after the war, where he came to realize that his mind still wasn’t working quite right. On the film set (which never seems like more than a fictional device), Day mainly discovers that the war isn’t really over, at least for him.
Living within Day’s consciousness can be a claustrophobic reading experience.