If you’re the kind of reader that trawls through all the bits and pieces at the start of a book – the dedication, review quotations and credits, biographical notes (often at the back but useful to know while you’re reading a novel) – you’ll spot Toni Jordan’s note telling you that Nine Days was inspired by a photograph from the Australian State Library of Victoria’s Argus newspaper collection. It’s the photo on the front of the book: a romantic shot of two lovers about to be torn apart by war, their longing achingly evident as they reach for each other. Jordan could simply have decided to tell a conventional love story about these two but instead she’s written something altogether more original.
Nine Days takes nine members of the Westaway family and, appropriately enough, gives us a snapshot of their lives, beginning with Kip, the fourteen-year-old youngest twin in 1939 and ending with his sister Connie who tells the story of the day the photo was taken. In a series of fast forwards and flashbacks we meet Stanzi – Kip’s counsellor daughter in need of counselling herself, Charlotte – her hippy dippy twin, Annabel – Kip’s beautiful wife, Francis – his priggish twin, Jean – their widowed mother rather too caught up with appearances, Jack – Connie’s lover, and Alec – Kip’s fourteen-year-old grandson. All speak in their own particular voice, letting slip snippets of the family story as their day progresses which coalesce into a whole when the full sadness of the lovers’ goodbye becomes apparent. Part of the satisfaction of Jordan’s structure is the putting together of the story, rather like coming across long puzzled over jigsaw pieces. Jordan manages this with great skill and her characterisation is strong. There is an incident late in the book when events seem a little too staged but it’s a momentary jarring in what is otherwise a cleverly crafted and very enjoyable novel about the way decisions, some small some large, can reverberate down the decades. It left me wondering what did happen to that couple in the photo: was theirs a happy ending or not.