“Every day we begin again.” Every day Ella performs her own private ritual in homage to her son, Kai. Over the course of the day, the story of how he died is slowly revealed. The nature of his death is truly a bitter pill to swallow. Her struggle to live while shrouded in grief at times seems futile to her but something inside her compels her to continue. This Day is an exploration of the all-consuming nature of grief and the way every moment is laden with the knowledge that the extinguished life is absent. This may sound morbid but Ella also has an acerbic wit and this counters the sadness.
Bart, Ella’s husband, has completely given up. He has sunk into such a deep depression that he is unable to function at all. He no longer works, no longer surfs, and spends most of his time in bed, emerging occasionally to collapse in a heap on the hammock. The honesty of her thoughts is both refreshing and amusing. The therapist tells her she should approach him with profound gentleness. What she would “dearly love to do is toss a bucket of water across this slumbering heap.” He will only communicate with the therapist who seems to undermine all Ella’s efforts. She has become “the filter between her husband and the outside world“. Therefore, she grieves for the loss of her husband and her son. Yet she cannot really give in to her own grief.
The novel is set in Mossel Bay, which is a first for me. I do not remember reading a novel set there before. The small town atmosphere is described well; sea, mountain and town all play a part in the action. This dimension enhances the narrative, adding texture and appealing to the senses.
This one day that we spend with Ella is an ambitious one. She is to dust off her camera for the first time in a year and photograph her friend, Kamala, who is married to Thad, the Greek (both delightful characters). She has arranged for Bart to meet with his work colleagues at lunchtime but she cannot be sure if he will make it and she has a separate assignation with Luxolo, one of Bart’s colleagues, later in the afternoon. As she is about to leave a man called Dylan arrives at the gate, wanting to work in her garden. He is a very intriguing character and she agrees to employ him. The awkwardness she feels at a stranger being privy to their fractured lives is very well put across.
The photo session Ella has with the pregnant Kamala is one of my favourite parts of this novel. Before it begins they have a discussion on the difference between pornography and erotica; the descriptions of Kamala as she poses are as evocative as a photograph and while Ella photographs she reflects on the nature of a photograph and what recording a moment means, as well as how little it can mean. This mixture of action accompanied by philosophical musings is what makes this novel special.
This Day is a perceptive, intriguing mix of desperation, hope and acerbic wit. It offers no easy remedies but invites the reader to journey with Ella as she tries to overcome her own bitterness and her frustration with her husband, laced with fear that her husband will kill himself. One of the reasons I love reading fiction is to learn and understand the human condition. Despite the sadness of the topic, this novel achieves this and leaves the reader feeling enriched.