The blurb: August 1924. John Conrad arrives at his parents’ home on the outskirts of Canterbury, where family and friends are assembling for the bank holiday weekend. His crippled mother has been discharged from a nursing home, his brother drives down from London with wife and child. But as the guests converge, John’s father dies.
Today follows the numb implications of sudden death: the surprise, the shock, the deep fissures in a family exposed through grief. But there is also laughter, fraud and theft; the continuation of life, all viewed through the eyes of Lilian Hallowes – John’s father’s secretary – never quite at the centre of things but always observing, the still point in a turning world. Today is a remarkable debut, an investigation of bereavement, family and Englishness, beautiful in its understatement and profound in its psychological acuity.
I love the cover of this book, it’s beautiful and gothic, and speaks volumes. I was never one for symbols and subtext in school, but even I can appreciate the gated atmosphere of this story, those who are considered family and those who are not, the divisiveness that can happen with grief.
However I was initially put off by the enormous list of characters that appear in such a slim volume. Three and a half pages are dedicated to listing all the players in this drama, which I found interrupted my flow, as I was continually checking back to find out the extra bit of information the character pages could afford me.
Not that this destroyed my enjoyment of the book. You enter the story at a particular moment in time and the back story between the characters is obviously very important, especially for the outsider Lilian Hallowes, a likeable, steadfast woman. Today is a subtle, emotive family drama about repressed feelings and the complexity of relationships. It’s a book to ponder over on a rainy afternoon and the period detail is excellent and very English. For once I don’t know what to add, the publisher’s blurb sums this book up perfectly!
6.5 out of 10 stars! ******.5
BUY ME! Today