Opening sentence: “It wasn’t true, what my mother said, when I called to show her the apartment, about the light.”
Reading this book stressed me out. I mean that in both a good and bad way. Good in the sense that if I have a real, solid reaction to a book then it’s connected with me, but bad as I genuinely felt a little anxious as it went on and at some points debated if I should keep reading. I did keep reading though – couldn’t stop, it turned out – as I needed to know the climax of this story!
And what is the story? Well, Little Bandaged Days tells of a mother’s gradual descent into depression and madness. She has two small children; a baby and a toddler and finds herself living in Geneva when her husband gets a new job there. The change of scenery, inability to speak the language, her husband’s constant long working hours and emotional neglect, plus the general monotony of tending to the every need of two small children leaves her isolated, alone and with little adult company or conversation. Due to this, she retreats further and further into her own head, with serious consequences. What makes this so clever is that she is not oblivious to what is happening to her, but there’s just nothing she can do:
‘It was just a question of practicality, of having to outsmart myself because, well, I couldn’t quite trust myself.’
The narrator’s children are similar ages to my own, so although this novel portrays an extreme version of events, it was, in places, relatable and certainly had a visceral effect on me. Any book that even hints at something happening to a child is enough to give me heart palpitations. For reasons never explained (although I guess it could be that the whole novel is meant to be her psychiatric report) she refers to her children and husband only by their first initial (baby B, toddler E and husband M). I didn’t mind this, but it takes getting used to and makes these characters feel a little 2D, especially her husband.
Overall though, this book is very skilfully written; as the narrator’s grip on reality slips, we are right there with her – some of her reasoning even makes a little sense – and, as I mentioned previously, it was so well done as to make me anxious while reading. I really enjoyed the tone and there were some wonderful, clever sentences that summed up huge parenting feelings in such a succinct way: ‘With children the future is always unimaginable, it is so uncertain as to be nothing. Less than that.’ Also: ‘Mothering is a hard job, it needs a lot of space to breathe.‘
This might not be a book for everyone, but it is a carefully crafted character study of a woman your heart just cries out for. In terms of evocative, emotional writing that addresses an issue many mums might see little elements of themselves in (albeit milder versions), Little Bandaged Days is brilliant.
- Thank you to NetGalley for the ARC.
- Published by Picador January 2020
- 192 pages
- My rating: