Review: ‘One Moment, One Morning’ by Sarah Rayner

‘One Moment, One Morning’ is emotional on a variety of levels: grieving, growing up and moving on are its main tenets, and broadly speaking it does these topics justice. In all, this is a book that takes you on a tail-spin on despair, only to show the light at the end, proving that the darkest moments really do come before dawn, despite its occasional slips in style and structure.

What Rayner does well in this book is show the stages of grieving subtly, unlike some of the more forceful books which dictate your emotional journey rather than allowing the journey to develop alongside your own understanding. Karen’s grief and sometimes her inability to grieve over Simon is, on the whole, well-written: it is sentimental without over-romanticising (as seen with Simon’s eulogy, where his faults were listed as the prime reason for loving him), and it does not shy away from involving the more difficult aspects, with regard to dealing with grief and young children. What did disappoint me with this latter element was that five-year-old Luke’s grief was never really rounded off: he was introverted, yes, but we never saw how he recovered from this to become the five-year-old happily helping in the allotment. Three-year-old Molly’s extrovert tantrums, on the other hand, were more easy to deal with: they allowed us to see that her lack of comprehension was both the reason and the cure for her tantrum.

Lou’s story was only ever partly told. The parts we did see were wonderfully written: we saw the new-age woman confronting her sexuality in an environment that tried to deny the modern world, showing how the world is ever-changing and ever-expanding between each generation. What I was disappointed with was the work situation: the potential issues Lou was facing in her job as a youth counsellor were never resolved, despite Rayner making a point of the ‘problem shared, problem solved’ routine when Lou spoke to the Head. This makes this episode seem rather redundant: surely the problem would not have just gone away? In working with children myself, I know they rarely give up when they desperately want something, and Aaron and Kiya’s displacement of their problems onto Lou’s sexuality would most likely have persisted, yet this faded into nothing. The moments with her mother, however, redeemed this slightly: again, this wasn’t romanticised. Lou’s mother is not seen as all-em

bracing, there is no revelation that her mother knew and was waiting to hear the news, nothing like that. Instead, we see the barriers, but also that chink of light at the end of a lengthy tunnel that showed life could continue despite this almighty hurdle.

With Anna’s story, I think Steve was the big let-down: we don’t really get to know him, and as such his drinking was almost abstract. I know that the point was that sober Steve and drunk Steve were almost like separate beings, but they should have been halves of a whole: instead, they came across as disjointed, and Anna’s struggle only seemed to be against one of these, when they were actually the same man. Her decision at the end of the novel came from linking these together, but we never saw these as united, even during Lou’s phone conversation with Steve. What was touching was Anna’s link to Lou in seeing Jim, the homeless man, was missing: it showed the ebbs and flows and utter uncontrollability of life, which was at the core of the book throughout.

What really touched me in this book was the initial incident, though. The idea that life is inconsistent, and we really don’t know what will happen in one moment, or on one morning, to unalterably change the course of our lives. The message that life is precious comes through loud and clear, without being preached or appearing patronising. It is conveyed through these three females and how the events of one morning ricochet off their individual lives, without Rayner explicitly linking this to her readers. Instead, she allows us to learn and take the message for ourselves, which was particularly evident in Anna’s realisation that the Steve she loved was the same man as the Steve she abhorred. In short, ‘One Moment, One Morning’ is a book that shows you three ways of life, and allows you to ultimately step back from these lives in order to assess your own, and how fully you are living it.

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