Off the Shelf: These Days
By Lucy Caldwell Faber ISBN 978-0-571-37130-3 2022 275 pp.
Review by Terrence J Kenneally
Belfast remained relatively unscathed during the first two years of World War II. Locals believed it was outside the range of German bombers. But the city’s shipyards become a target for the Nazis.
About 200 of the Luftwaffe set off to target Northern Ireland’s capital. The city was not prepared for such a large-scale attack. Hundreds of tons of explosives and incendiaries rained down on the city. About 1,000 people were killed and the city left in ruins.
It was the worst wartime air raid in any city outside of London. It is against that backdrop that this months Off the Shelf selection, These Days, was written by Lucy Caldwell, one of the “Ireland-born most essential writers.”
Following the lives of two sisters, Emma and Audrey, one engaged to be married, the other in a secret relationship with another woman, as they try to survive the horrors of the four nights of bombing which were the Belfast Blitz. The book presages the current catastrophic events in the Ukraine, which we read about and watch on television daily.
These Days takes as its focal point a series of attacks: the Dockside Raid, the Easter Raid and the Fireside Raids, that took place in Belfast from April to May 1941. 900 people died and more than a thousand were injured in the Easter Raid alone. “Over the course of the night, and the next, close to 1,000,000 incendiaries were dropped over the city, more than in almost any other raid anywhere in the United Kingdom. Many of them this time are fitted with anti-handling devices.
The fierce old woman that Emma talked about in the book, going to pick them up and throw them out of their houses with fire tongs, lose their hands and lives. Men shovel them from the roofs of the streets in the east, until those roofs collapse beneath them. “
Audrey, a junior clerk at the Belfast tax office, has just become engaged to Richard, a respectable but somewhat stiff doctor who views marriage as the logical step in their relationship. Meanwhile, at the local first aid post, Emma is experiencing the first flashes of love, having fallen for Sylvia, a relaxed self-assured woman who works alongside her at the station. These relationships form the personal side of the story. These Days is a timeless and heartwarming novel about being under duress, about family, and about how we try to stay true to ourselves. I rate this book a TOP SHELF read.