These Days

Thank you Lucy Caldwell for making my summer. A good novel often makes my summer… In recent years writers like Colum McCann, Sue Divin and Michelle Gallen have been the provocative and entertaining companions of my lazy days by the sea. 

In 2023 it is Lucy Caldwell. These Days is set in and around the Belfast Blitz. It works its way into and out from one middle class family, the Bells, and follows their very different love stories. 

BUT there is so much more. I listed:


The war commentary so well research and sending me off to find out more about 1941 in my home city.

The almost tangible feelings of suspense she creates in bombings and the aftermath of bombings on the streets… 

The feelings of suspense on the lips of kisses and the emotions of love in its fervour (Emma), lack of fervour (Audrey), loss and regret (Florence). 

The deep introspection of the inner heart alongside the universes biggest questions.

There is even room for some challenges about class differences too.


Indeed, I found it quite astonishing how much Caldwell had crammed in. The layers of threads she weaves into one short novel. With the most poetic of prose, stunningly beautiful at times, she creates the most convincing characters that you feel that you intimately and sets them in these vivid scenes that you feel that you are in whether the beauty of the Bells garden or the terror of a street just devastated by German incendiaries. 

With all this alive in your imagination, Lucy goes for the questions of heart. There are hard questions about what love really is. There are questions what life is all about and how to use it well. There are questions about how Belfast can ever recover from the trauma of the nights.

It had me looking back at the challenging events of our generation - The Troubles, Covid, Brexit and realising that those 100 years ahead of us had an island dividing that caused a civil war as well as two World Wars and the depression of the 30s. 

I found myself looking up and across our lounge at my wife’s father, Bryan. He lived through this as a 5 year old. Yes, he was on the Great Victoria Station platform as the children are in the book to be sent off to the safety of Portrush. But Bryan lived with his dad at the Harbour where his ad worked and the Germans must have been targeting. 

Bryan speaks of the reinforced bunker under the stairs and getting up the morning after the first night’s bombing to pick up the shrapnel. He remembers little else. I wonder was he just young enough or did his body make sure he didn’t remember. 

Caldwell’s describes the bombings as “something out of Dante” and “some irrefutable sort of hell.” Not easy to forget, even at 5.

Lucy has hooked me in. I want to know more about those nights, their aftermath and then how a city built itself up again. There is always a temptation for a decline into nihilism in these characters yet when the question of asked “How are we going to recover?” 

Mother, Florence Bell, the quiet unobtrusive oracle of the piece answers, “We just have to get through this bit.” “The bigger question,” she says later, “is how to make good use of my life.” For those with ears to hear Lucy Caldwell gives us many a clue to that in my novel of the summer of 2023.


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