Alfie Day has been an RAF tail gunner and a starved, beaten POW. Five years have passed, and Alfred is the sole survivor of his bomber crew. He is also among the millions of walking wounded, living in the scarcity and devastation of post-war Britain. A fishmonger’s battered son, he’d half hoped the war would end a life he’d been taught was worthless. Now he endures survivors’ guilt and a swarm of stabbing memories, the agonizing hyper-realities of childhood abuse and twenty-nine bombing missions.
The author’s exquisite prose carries the reader past the near dumb shows of Day’s conversation, deep into the clear, swirling eddies of his mind. This is a man who knows more than he shows, who is frozen by the violence he’s endured. Hoping to find his way out of paralyzing numbness, he travels to Germany to take part in a film set in a death camp. Here the past, both in memory and in the form of an SS man now passing as a partisan, confronts him. He remembers, hopelessly, the few moments of tenderness in his life, a wartime affair with a married woman.
Occasionally the stream of consciousness left me behind, but the superb precision of the writing brought a knockout punch to each and every page. Day gives the reader World War II warts and all, stripped of pieties or flag-waving. Ms. Kennedy, who has won prestigious awards for earlier works, again demonstrates a humbling mastery of her art.