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Nine Days is an ambitious book - nine narrators, nine points in time. We follow the story of the Westaway family as they face up to the impending Second World War; we see their friends, neighbours. We see their futures and we discover their pasts.


Structurally, the novel is a work of genius, flitting backwards and forwards between the 1930s up to the present day with various stops in between. Subsequent stories reveal details that cast new light on previous stories; the characters reappear at different points of their lives and we see them both as they see themselves and as they are seen by others.


On the other hand, as a reading experience it does threaten to become confusing. The reader has to hold a vast array of characters and relationships in the mind at once, remembering what they did and what they are destined to do. At one point, I confess I felt like writing down a chart showing how everyone inter-related. Perhaps it's good that I cared enough to consider this, but it's not so good that I thought it might be necessary. The nine voices all represent different people, but the voices are not always sufficiently distinct. Sometimes, for example, youth might be conveyed through poor spelling or malapropisms, but it doesn't quite make for a distinct character.


However, any shortcomings in voice development are overcome by Toni Jordan's remarkable ability to carry a story. She is able to construct genuine moments of pain and heartbreak, joy and hope from the flimsiest of fragments. The end result is really quite overwhelming. There is poignancy as we see how times change - people now have a range of choices that were not available to their forebears in similar situations some years before. This gives the reader some sense of "what if?".


Bygone Melbourne also makes a bit of a star turn. We visit Richmond first when it was a stinking slum and then revisit it as it has become a mini Saigon interspersed with wealthy young professionals. We see less change in Hawthorn, always middle class but never quite up there with Toorak. There are trams and boats and trains. Pubs and shops. All these things, and small artefacts, and people and memories making links between different ages.


Nine Days is very well worth reading and marks the latest progress of a versatile writer who has avoided being pigeon-holed by her previous works.



Edited by MisterHobgoblin

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