Day for Night by Jean McNeil
Day for Night by Jean McNeil
UK Publication Date: July 2021
Reviewed by: Book Worm
This ARC was provided by ECW Press Audio (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
A book out of time…
Synopsis from Goodreads: An unflinching exploration of love and boundaries in Brexit-crazed London.
Richard Cottar is a respected independent film writer and director; his wife, Joanna, is his increasingly successful and wealthy producer. Together they are about to embark on a film about the life of Walter Benjamin, the German Jewish intellectual who killed himself in northern Spain while on the run from the Nazis in 1940. In what looks set to be the last year of Britain’s membership of the European Union, Benjamin’s story of exile and statelessness is more relevant than ever. But Richard and Joanna’s symbiotic life takes a sudden turn when they cast a intelligent, sexually ambiguous young actor in the role of Walter Benjamin. In a climate of fear and a bizarre, superheated year redolent of sex and hidden desire, Richard and Joanna must confront their relationship, Benjamin’s tragic history, and the future of their country.
Taking its cue from Virginia Woolf’s Orlando, Day for Night is an unsettling, riveting story of reversals — of gender, power, and history.
My Thoughts: Any book set in the modern day written pre but published post Covid was always going to suffer from being left behind by current events and that is exactly what happened with this book. When the book was written the biggest social change in years and for the foreseeable future was Brexit by the time (now) the book has come to be published Brexit has been replaced by Covid as the biggest story in the world. The author in her afterword admits that her novel has been overtaken by history, that is not anyone’s fault but it does impact on the reading experience.
The main characters are very much anti-Brexit and anti-Tory a viewpoint which makes sense given their artistic background and enjoyment of travel (a viewpoint shared by a lot of people at the time of writing) it does however (if the election was anything to go by) go against current public opinion. That said a lot of the issues and parallels the author drew between Brexit and the plight of Walter Benjamin could still be said to be alive and kicking but rather than as a result of Brexit they are a result of Covid. These include food shortages, transport delays, exodus of migrant workers and freedom of movement which is now restricted by health status instead of nationality.
While history overtook the story I really did enjoy the magical realism (haunting?) elements especially where Richard is getting input from Walter Benjamin. I am not sure how to feel about the romance side as due to the differences in age and authority it did feel unbalanced, that said it is handled delicately and with a lot of inner struggle which I appreciated.
I have seen other reviews that complain that this reads like a screenplay I was lucky in that I got an audiobook ARC so the medium I experienced the story through was actually a performance. I loved the use of two readers to represent the narrative voices in the novel. Clive Walton and Mia Fothergill were absolutely perfect and I could listen to them reading all day long.
In summary if Covid had not happened this would be “relevant” and “timely” unfortunately Covid has happened so this is now firmly dated. That said in the future this could be heralded as an insight into that brief period of time between Brexit and Covid.
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