Atlas Production, Australia, 2020
Readers have looked on in 2020 as the publishing industry has come to grips with COVID-19 and writers have worked hard to get their stories not just published but then publicised.
Who would have anticipated that a novella set on a cruise ship would be one of the stories to emerge in that year, its author finalising her edits at the close of 2019 before so many things changed.
Nineteen Days is a story about grief, loss, love and forgiveness, and the capacity of human beings to overcome great challenges and emerge determined to pursue the best life can offer.
Genevieve and her husband Peter embark on a cruise during a period of extreme grief following the death of their son. They have reached a point where communication seems impossible and their differing needs in grief seem irreconcilable.
Genevieve strikes up a conversation, which develops into a friendship, with a very obese fellow traveller, Thomas, who carries his own grief from an isolated childhood in an extreme religious sect and from a failed love relationship. Somehow, the two find they can share their stories with one another, though the stories do unfurl gradually in Thomas’s case.
Meanwhile Peter strikes up a relationship with Martin, Thomas’s brother, who has been brought up by their grandparents, having been taken out at a very early age from the parental home.
Martin also develops an unlikely relationship with Su Tseng, a childcare operator suffering under the threat of legal action. Martin has his own devils to wrestle, not the least of which is guilt over a major life decision.
With the swirling emotions in the enclosed community of the cruise ship, climactic revelations and decisions ensue and there is much for the characters to learn about themselves and their fellows.
Kath Engebretson has woven an engaging tale which invites us to explore the nature of love. It’s skilfully constructed and holds the reader’s attention to the last word.
Her depiction of the heightened emotions of grief, anxiety, fear and sorrow rings true and speaks not just of personal experience and adept writing but of compassionate understanding for the human experience. Her creations feel like real people and we cannot but wish these survivors of life’s vicissitudes well.
The book is available at most online booksellers. Thank you to Atlas Productions for the review copy.