these days by Lucy Caldwell – “Two sister, four nights, one city” a powerful novel of lives changed.

these days by Lucy Caldwell

Belfast in 1941 was a busy place. The people look at London and sympathise with those suffering from the Blitz. This is the story of four nights when those same people discovered what it is to experience the deliberate destruction of a city. It is also the story of two sisters who discover that different relationships have their challenges, a discovery expressed in the small things, not all of which are linked to the bombing. It is the story of women, of children, who experience so much in a short space of time, of emotions that are not easily defined, of flickers of hope on the edge of life. 

This is a superbly written book that deals with difficult subject matter in a stunning way – gazing at thoughts otherwise concealed, at hints of a life beyond the book yet firmly lodged in the story. Caldwell has encapsulated so much in what is essentially a small space, a world within 271 pages, a city summed up in the lives of women changed forever. I found this the sort of story that pulled me in and kept me enthralled, walking those streets scarred with a destruction of more than just buildings. This is a difficult time to be reading this book in some ways with war in Europe once more, but this book gives us a hint of how life must go on even with an uncertainty that cannot be defined. From the little elements of applied and discarded lipstick, a scarf, a smuggled shaving kit, this is the story of people changed and wondering what is to come next, what can come next. The mother who watches over children, sees her husband’s trauma, and wonders about another love. A child with a doll considering what is important. A young woman who feels trapped by a relationship that looks safe, expected and conforming to what she should want. This is a story of life which carries on, or ought to, when the unimaginable is happening.

Emma is dreaming as the book begins, dreaming of Sylvia at the First Aid  post where she volunteers. It is disturbing, unsettling in every way. Then the unthinkable. The sound of enemy bombers, the reality after false alarms, the panic of half thought through plans for shelter in a cupboard, an unconsidered space. Emma knows what she should do, what her family should do, how she should grab what she wants to save. She realises “There is nothing, she thinks. There is nothing from this life that I’d save.”. Audrey is confronted by feelings that she cannot name, cannot cope with alongside the knowledge of other people. Richard, the young doctor who she has been seeing, after the first night of bombing, shaken by what has happened, proposes marriage, admitting his fear, his desperation. Audrey is shaken, picked up and put down by emotion, left bewildered. “But it’s all beginning now, she thinks, my real life – all of it”.

This is altogether a powerful,memorable book. Despite everything it has the sense of life going on, changed, even transformed but carrying on. It is written with a deep understanding of the place in which it is set, a setting forever changed. I even found a character based on a real woman, whose diary I am due to read next. This book rises above the research with its tremendous story. I recommend this as a startling, incredible read, of women and girls changed forever, of a city transformed in just four historic nights.