Good Day? by Vesna Main: When life mirrors fiction, or not

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?

Do you?

 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.

12 thoughts on “Good Day? by Vesna Main: When life mirrors fiction, or not”

  1. I really struggled with this one and its back and forth dialogue format. I gave up after around 70 pages. I might pick it up again in the future but for now its a no from me. Shame as it was one I was looking forward to.

  2. The premise of this sounds torturous to me but I can see in the right hands it could work well. I’m also not one for neat, happy endings so I’m definitely with the Writer on that one!

  3. I’m sad to say that the library doesn’t have a copy of this one – it sounds like my cuppa for sure. (And I love the cover too!)

  4. It looks like I missed this post first time around. So glad you tweeted it out again – it sounds right up my alley! (It just might be hard to find.)

    1. It’s great but I’m afraid it might be tricky to track down for you. It’s published by the small (but perfectly formed) Salt Publishing and has just been shortlisted for a prize which is very good news for them. You can order direct from their website – they send out your book(s) with a tiny packet of salt!

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