It’s very rare that you stumble across a book set in your own local ‘hood – but when it happens, it’s special. I really loved reading about working-class Richmond in the war years, full of factory workers and domestic servants; and I couldn’t help but think how these characters would gasp if they knew that their old workers’ cottages are now worth millions! I’ve wandered the streets of Richmond since finishing the book, and I love imagining all the people that have lived and worked here over the years.
But as much as I enjoyed reading about familiar streets such as Rowena Parade, Bridge Road and Power Street, there’s more to this book than location, location, location. With engaging characters, an intriguing story line and a touching romance, this ‘guaranteed good read’ by Toni Jordan is easily devoured in a couple of sittings.
The story opens in 1939 with the voice of teenager Kip Westaway, whose family is struggling after their father died suddenly, following a drunken accident. Kip is immediately likeable – a hard worker and loyal family member – and I could have happily followed his laneway adventures for the rest of the novel. But the book has an interesting structure, with a new narrator for each chapter. Each character is a member of the Westaway family (spanning four generations), and the story line flits between the second world war years and the current day.
The title Nine Days refers to the nine characters re-telling the events of the most significant day of their life; extraordinary, life-changing moments in their otherwise ordinary lives. Jordan cleverly integrates three objects – a coin, a purple pendant and a photograph – into the stories of all the characters, providing continuity between the chapters.
With no clear sign-posts as to the year or the relationship of the next narrator, it’s not always clear how the story fits together, especially early on. Some have described the book as a series of short stories, rather than a novel; and another reviewer likened it to a ‘series of postcards’. Despite the shifting narrators, the chapters were far more connected than a book of short stories.
Jordan skilfully crafts the different voices, allowing the personality of each character to shine through. This is quite an achievement, considering there are nine voices. I do have to add though, that the turn-of-phrase errors in Alec’s chapter were annoying! Initially, I thought it was an editorial oversight, but there were too many of them – so I assume it was the character’s voice, reflecting a teenager who’s heard different expressions but hasn’t yet mastered them. For example: “I cut off my nose despite my face” and “this was a case and point”.
I have mixed views over the unusual structure and whether it worked well, or was too ambitious. On one hand, I love the way that little snippets of information were scattered throughout the story, requiring the readers to piece it together. But on the other, I would have loved the author to flesh out the characters and some of the missing details. How did Kip’s mother die? Did Kip and Frank fall out over Annabel? Did Jack’s parents ever find out the truth about Connie? But isn’t that the sign of a talented author, to leave us pondering the ending and mulling over the events long after we’ve read the last page?