A handful of strangers in London find themselves connected, and changed, by dark events—sudden death, sexual assault—and the humbling of a self-made man.
Four characters narrate the new novel from British journalist-turned-author Day (Home Fires, 2013): rag-trade tycoon Sir Howard Pink; ambitious journalist Esme Reade; haunted Ugandan immigrant Beatrice Kizza; and a widow, Carol Hetherington, whose role in the story moves from peripheral to central. Pink (originally named Fink, the son of Jewish immigrants), with his passing resemblance to a real-life British businessman, starts the ball rolling via an action that brings to mind another figure from news headlines when he forces himself sexually on a black chambermaid in an upscale English hotel. The chambermaid is Beatrice, and there will be repercussions. Pink is no stranger to the media. His rags-to-riches background and high-profile, luxurious lifestyle make good copy. But he’s also known for the family tragedy that befell him 11 years earlier: the disappearance of his lovely but troubled 19-year-old daughter, Ada. Day’s journalistic experience clearly infuses her novel, not just in her borrowing of front-page events and characters or in the plausible background to Esme’s work environment, but also in the briskly efficient narration. Her characters have fully documented psychologies, rounded out with precise detail, and her plot, although it invokes big issues—race, class, sexism—delivers shrewd, well-paced storytelling. Most memorable is the trajectory of Sir Howard, the bullying outsider whose descent into self-disgust and the abject depths of sorrow is achieved with surprising impact. In his orbit, Esme’s career blossoms and Beatrice’s life swerves away from isolation and nightmare, while the once-fearless entrepreneur himself emerges from suffering and self-scrutiny a better man.
Despite a sugary, overly tidy ending, this is unusual, well-crafted storytelling enhanced by some telling emotional notes.