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“Ten Days” by Austin Duffy

Irish novelist, Austin Duffy’s second novel, Ten Days is mostly set in New York. Photographer, Wolf is visiting the city with his daughter Ruth so she can take part in her late mother’s family’s celebration of the ten High Holy Days of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The visit will culminate in a ceremony to scatter Miriam’s ashes over the Hudson River. Miriam has recently passed away after a short battle with cancer. Though, at the time, separated from Wolf, she’d asked her husband to return to the family home so they could be together for the last few weeks. She’s also left him strict instructions concerning both her funeral arrangements and plans for Ruth to be part of the extended family’s holiday celebrations in New York. Wolf is neither Jewish nor in the family’s good books. They rightly judge him for his treatment of Miriam. He feels excluded from the celebrations and yet continues to persevere with his in-laws. It’s essential that his daughter is accepted and feels at home within the family.

Wolf has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Though he doesn’t tell his wife or daughter, he’s made an elaborate plan to provide for Ruth when he can no longer look after her. He’s booked one way tickets from London for both of them. The novel implies that Wolf intends to kill himself in America, whilst he’s arranged for Ruth to move in with her Jewish in-laws in New York. I’ll not give any spoilers away but it’s enough to say his plan doesn’t work out quite as he’d intended. The novel ends a little differently from how I’d expected and ultimately I was grateful for this.

I loved Ten Days. I loved the writing. It’s sharp, well-crafted and pacey. It’s very much a city novel and there’s a definite urban tightness to the way it’s written. I loved the depictions of Jewish culture and the way they’re seamlessly woven through the book. I also loved the occasional dips into the world of artists and musicians -some real, some fabricated- which Wolf has built his career around.

Duffy’s penned a great depiction of strained relationships, put under further pressure by the increasing confusion Wolf’s experiencing. He’s not particularly close to his daughter. He’s been ostracised by his in-laws. And yet he’s trying his best to prepare for their future together, even as he begins to forget who they are. There’s a woozy quality to the way Duffy writes dementia. Both time and spatial awareness come in and out of focus, sometimes repeating in a loop. I found this a very effective mode of capturing the dementia experience of a man who’s desperately trying to hold on to his sense of reality. It’s also a novel which explores power and ego. Wolf is a man who’s been used to riding roughshod over others’ feelings; the central section of the novel, where he discovers his mother’s Alzheimer’s, then coldly and pragmatically dispatches her to a nursing home, is quite a hard read. Now, he’s increasingly dependent on other people, some of whom he’s treated poorly in the past. This wasn’t the dementia narrative I was expecting to read. I enjoyed it all the more for that.

Ten days was published by Granta in 2021 

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