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A L Kennedy: Day

This is something of a different approach for Kennedy as the novel is not set in contemporary Scotland, most of it being set in England during and shortly after the war, and in Germany. The Day of the title refers not to a day of the week but to the hero, Sergeant Alfred Day, a tail gunner in Lancaster bombers during the war. The story concerns his wartime experience and his subsequent life, particularly his involvement in making a film in 1949, set in a prisoner of war camp and filmed in Germany. Kennedy mixes the various stories together. We follow his career in the Lancasters, from when he was first chosen as the tail gunner for a particular crew till the plane is shot down and, apparently, he alone escapes, though he parachutes into Germany, is captured and spends the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. Kennedy makes much of the close relationship of the bomber crew, even though they are all from different backgrounds, and the efforts they make to become a team. But she doesn’t spare us the grim side, as one of their number is killed during a flight and, on the final flight, it seems that all except Day are killed.

In the 1949 episode when the prisoner of war camp episode is filmed, Day’s main involvement is with a Ukrainian, Vasyl, who turns out to be a Latvian, who has escaped Stalin’s Soviet Union and is hoping to go to London. Day finds out that Vasyl had committed atrocities during the war but no-one seems to care. Indeed, illegal behaviour is condoned almost as much as it was in the war, with a black market ring being formed and Day being invited to join it. Day, however, has a post-war career. He had always being interested in books, being a self-taught man, and after the war went to work for Ivor Sands in a bookshop. Sands is an unpleasant man – a true English bookseller – obnoxious both to Day (whom he fires more than once) and to his customers but it is clear that Day keeps the shop going and it is where he returns after his film experience.

But, despite all of this, this book is above all a love story. It is a love story in Kennedy style, where things are not easy, but nevertheless there is passion and feeling in the affair. On leave in London during the war, Day is caught in a an air raid and goes to a shelter, where he meets Joyce. Joyce had married a man who was called up just two weeks after their wedding and had gone to the Far East, where he has now disappeared. No-one knows whether he is dead or alive. Joyce and Day have an affair which clearly means a lot to both of them but, after the war, he is reluctant to see what has happened to her, fearing that he husband will have returned. While Kennedy does not really make much of this reluctance, it clearly is something that will have to be resolved and, more or less, is resolved.

Kennedy has once again produced another fine novel which has both an element of suspense both with the love affair and the Vasyl affair, a love affair which works but does not slip into mawkishness and deals with the problem of violence, albeit in a wartime setting. Above all, it is about someone trying to find their place in the world and struggling to do so but somehow pulling through.

Publishing history

First published 2007 by Jonathan Cape