Ten Days by Austin Duffy
There’s a tension between Wolf and his sixteen-year-old daughter, Ruth, as they arrive in New York to spend time with relatives during the ten holy days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Is it because they’ve come to scatter Miriam’s ashes and are grieving the loss of a mother and wife? Or because the in-laws have never approved of Miriam’s marrying outside the faith? Is it because Ruth is a typical teenager or that Wolf had little contact with her in the seven years he and Miriam were estranged?
All of those are certainly factors, plus that Wolf has made plans for his daughter’s future without consulting her. But there’s a bigger secret, which becomes apparent to the reader as the novel progresses, and to the family as the already unwelcome guest at the dinner table irritates them more and more.
This is the heart of the novel, but I won’t disclose the issue here as it isn’t mentioned in the blurb. I suppose to give readers the satisfaction of its gradual discovery, and the reveal is beautifully handled, but it does make it hard to review. Suffice to say that it reminded me of Michael Ignatieff’s tender novel Scar Tissue, and (like my own novel, Sugar and Snails) it turns out to be much more than it first seems.
More poignant. More special. Although I did have slight reservations about the setup: obviously as the father, Wolf should take parental responsibility for Ruth, yet I wondered how much Miriam, who knew she was dying, had considered what their daughter actually wanted. Also there’s a psychiatrist who breaks confidentiality at a dinner party in a manner I hope wouldn’t happen in real life. (Incidentally, Wolf is the confidant, not the patient!) Published in the UK next month by Granta books (and probably, because of the Americanisms, although the author’s Irish, in the US also) – thanks to them for my review copy.
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Gratitude by Delphine de Vigan translated by George Miller
Michka wants to express her gratitude to a couple who helped her in childhood, before she runs out of words. She’s paid the favour forwards, however, by helping Maria, a neglected child in the apartment above hers. Now Maria’s grown-up, she’s helping Michka, but it’s not quite enough. Fortunately, Jérôme’s willing to blur therapeutic boundaries and plug the gap.
The exact nature of Michka’s debt is easy to envisage, and not much is added when it’s finally revealed. Similarly, a thread about Jérôme’s unresolved issues with his father isn’t developed and, because the plot relies heavily on dialogue, there’s little emotional resonance. Although it doesn’t say so explicitly, extrapolating from other data, Michka must be in her mid-70s at most, which is tragically young to be losing the power of communication.
Still, it was good to meet my first fictional speech therapist and I thought the translator must’ve had fun – or a headache-inducing challenge – rendering Michka’s aphasia into English from the French. Gratitude to publishers Bloomsbury for my review copy.