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A Day Like Any Other - Isla Dewar - Polygon (2020)

A Review by Cynthia Rogerson

This is Isla Dewar’s 19th novel. She’s given us classics like Women Talking Dirty (made into a film starring Helena Bonham Carter) and Keeping up with Magda. Fans will not need any persuasion to read this new book – but even so, they are in for a treat, for A Day Like Any Other is not a book like any other. Technically a novel about life-long female friendship, the overall story is much wider, far deeper.  It encompasses grand themes like guilt and atonement.  Getting old and dying. Losing loved ones and never recovering. Poetry and the nature of writing. Social isolation and a sense of community.  Being haunted by lost loved items (in George’s case, an entire kitchen).  And perhaps most resoundingly of all, the novel recognises that stupidity is universal and therefore worthy of forgiveness.

The two characters who deliver these weighty themes, are themselves light.  They make the book a joy to read and the medicine easy to swallow. Anna and George (another girl) meet as children and join forces against a classmate, Dorothy Pringle, who is as stuck up and prim as her name.  But there is nothing noble in their conspiracy to torment Dorothy, and as old women they feel a need to make it up to her.  Meanwhile they meet weekly for lunch, and we are given their back stories. George’s teenage rebellion and love affair with an ill-fated handsome rogue, and Anna’s ill-fated marriage with a man who has no interest in sex. Cleverly threaded through the stories and the lunches, are their current lives.  What their past has led them to embrace. Or, in Anna’s case, ultimately let go of.

It’s an easy read, unsurprising from a writer with a long track record - but having read most of her previous books, I think this has something new. Warmth and honesty pour off the pages like a soft duvet thrown around the reader’s shoulders, or indeed, like making two new best friends. But there is nothing remotely sentimental about this book.  George and Anna do not live idyllic lives.  They’ve had lives like any other, and they understand now that when death comes, it will probably be on a day like any other.  We are all in the same boat and it leaks all our lives. Let’s be kind to each other.

The Board and Editor of Northwords Now acknowledge support from Creative Scotland and Bòrd na Gàidhlig.
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