“deep inside the banality of everyday existence a black orchid was being carefully digested”
The day that didn’t happen, by Gerd Kvanvig (translated by Wendy H. Gabrielsen), is a short novel written in such powerful and evocative prose it could be poetry. The story is narrated by a young woman, Margrete, whose life pivoted on a traumatic event that took place at a funfair near the end of a hot summer when she was twelve years old. She has told no one what happened, burying the memory deep inside herself in an attempt to move on from it.
At the time, Margrete lived with her mother in the small town of Jessheim in Norway. Her mother worked nights as a nurse, leaving Margrete to cope as best she could while her mother was either at work or sleeping. There was little communication between the pair. Margrete was provided with money for essentials but little else. She was often scared when left alone after darkness fell.
“In the empty flat there was nothing, something worse than nothing”
When younger, Margrete would spend holidays with her beloved grandfather who is now dead. He was the only person who paid her attention and showed affection. She has friends but keeps her distance, often pushing them away due to lack of money and Margrete’s need for head space. She cycles around the neighbourhood, the freedom of speed offering her some respite.
The book opens with the first brief snippet of what happened to Margrete during the annual Jessheim Festival. Fuller details are gradually teased out as the story progresses. Her memories are saturated with sensory perceptions – the weight of heat, music, scent. After the event she took to hiding away under a concrete stairway in her block of flats. She is discovered here by a new neighbour, a policeman named Erling. He takes Margrete under his wing, understanding her need for friendship without questions.
The narrative moves back and forward in time, offering glimpses of Margrete’s life before and after. Details are spare yet vivid. Recognising that she has been changed inexorably while all around remained unaware, she harbours a determination not to be defeated.
“What happened doesn’t belong to me. And yet it does. Little Margrete has carried it with her.”
Although shocking, when the extent of incident is revealed, young Margrete’s ability to carry on with so little support demonstrates her strength. Ultimately this is a story that offers hope. Despite the subject matter it is a beautiful, eloquent read.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, naked eye.