This is the second jacket I’ve fallen in love with this year, another which fits its book perfectly. The other was the gloriously pink cover for Aylet Gundar-Goshen’s Liar. Always a joy when publishers use an image which is both strikingly original and appropriate. Vesna Main’s Good Day? recounts a daily conversation between a Writer and her Reader, who is also her husband, describing the progress of her novel about a couple whose marriage is strained to breaking point.
Richard, the fictional husband, has been visiting prostitutes for seven of the twenty-five years he’s been married to Anna. When she discovers what he’s been up to, Anna is furious, becoming obsessed and later taking lovers of her own. In another thread, a young prostitute is sent to prison for murdering her pimp. Tanya had become involved in the consciousness-raising group that Anna had help run when she was a post-grad student. Each day the Reader asks the Writer if she’s had a good day and she replies with how things are progressing with Richard, Anna and sometimes Tanya. Discomfited by the similarities between the fictional couple and themselves, the Reader challenges the Writer who tetchily denies that Anna is a copy of herself or that Richard is modelled on the Reader. How will all this end both for Anna and Richard, and for the Reader and the Writer?
This is such a clever piece of writing and a daring one, too. To write a novel almost entirely in dialogue and carry it off as well as Main does requires quite a degree of chutzpah. Good Day? explores themes of marriage, gender and fiction within the framework of its characters’ daily exchange with wit and aplomb. This isn’t about us is the refrain that recurs through the novel but cracks begin to show:
Do you think we have a happy marriage?
I asked first
The ransacking of their lives for character traits and intimate details sees the Reader becoming increasingly cagey, wary of the incidents from his day the Writer lights upon, names from his department that crop up and whole sentences which have been borrowed – sometimes with permission, sometimes without. His identification with Richard, standing up for him against Anna’s outrage, provokes the Writer to jump to her defence accusing him of a typically male reaction. As both novels near their ends, the Reader plumps for a happy one while the Writer protests that such conclusions are tedious, interestingly mirroring the attitudes in my own house. As with all the best novelists, the Writer suggests that it’s up to her readers to infer not to her to dictate. Main rounds off her smartly accomplished novel with a postscript which may or may not have you scratching your head.