Byker Books, having already produced one of the best catalogs of 2013, scores again with 18 Days by Allen Miles. 18 Days is part of their Best of British line. It chronicles the descent of its lead character, Davy Sheridan, into a whirpool of grief and self-destruction. Perhaps descent is too light a word. More like he’s dropped from heaven, smashes through the earth and cartwheels straight into hell. Then tries to dig himself through the floor. The magic of the story is in its telling: rather than advance point-by-point, 18 Days evolves through a series of variations, circling back on itself and a little further forward each time, the way a melody is explored by a seasoned jazz musician. And there passages such as this, which I was compelled to re-read as soon as I’d finished them:
“He approached the cemetery and its ostentatious gates and he took an overview of what he saw. In any other season except for this one, this place looked beautiful, peaceful, picturesque and tranquil. In spring it bustled with the joy of the new, the naive shade of the newly born green leaves on every plant and tree, the fresh grass bursting from the ground to give each grave an extra blanket on top. In summer the sun would affirm people’s belief in heaven as they wiped away their tears each time they came to lay flowers, and they would all say that the beams of ultra-violet were their dead relatives smiling down on them. When the autumn came, the cemetery became a hazy, sensuous oasis. The enormous trees would adopt the dozens of colours of fire, and the smell of the vegetation on the ground would make your eyes water. A low mist would hang over the gravestones and it would make you want to read a Dickens novel. But in the barren January chill, from where Davy stood and smoked as he prepared to enter, those very same enormous trees looked like hideous spectral claws reaching out of the ground to ensnare any spirits that might have had the hope of rising up….”
I won’t give away the ending. You’ll have to read the book to find out if Sheridan survives. And read it you should.
Also of note is the cover by Kenny Crow, a perfect complement to the story.
Allen Miles is the author of The Night Out That Never Ended and Down And Out Down Hartoft Road, the screenplay Paradise (A Story of Shambolic Failure), and a collection of short stories and prose entitled Nostaligia And Its Long-Term Future. His website, Sitting on the Swings, is located at http://sittingontheswings.com.