Monday, October 16, 2017

Book Review: Seven Days of Us

By Jami Deise

As I wrote this review, I was hunkered down at my parents’ place in Central Florida waiting for a hurricane. Although my folks were gone and it was just me, my husband, and my dog, their home was the perfect environment in which to read and review Francesca Hornak’s debut novel, Seven Days of Us, about a British family quarantined together over Christmas. Often compelling, sometimes tedious, and a bit overlong, reading the book definitely mirrored the emotions of being quarantined, whether due to illness or weather.

Andrew and Emma Birch’s daughter Olivia has been treating victims of the lethal Haag virus in Africa, and she must isolate herself for seven days after returning to England to ensure she’s not sick. Since it’s so unusual for Olivia to return home for Christmas, her family is eager to quarantine with her, and they retreat to Emma’s family estate in the country. But rather than enjoying the jolly Christmas holiday that Emma tries so hard to create, Olivia is distant and guarded. And no wonder—she had a secret, forbidden relationship with another doctor, and soon as he returned home, he was diagnosed with Haag and put in isolation. Olivia doesn’t tell her family the truth.

Her parents are also hiding secrets. Emma has just been diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma, but she’s keeping that news to herself because she doesn’t want to spoil Christmas—even though she’d be in extreme danger if Olivia turned out to be a Haag carrier. Andrew has been contacted by a son whom he never knew existed, Jesse. And Jesse, having not heard back from Andrew, has decided to come to town anyway. Younger daughter Phoebe, planning her wedding, is too frivolous for secrets, but her fiancé George might have one.

The book is written in third person, and each character gets a point of view. I found Emma to be the most easy to identify with, and her tireless efforts to give her family a perfect Christmas despite her illness—even while they belittled her and took her for granted—were almost heartbreaking. I found it hard to appreciate the other characters because of this, especially Phoebe, who is 29-going-on-19. Olivia is self-righteous, Andrew a coward, and George a blowhard. Jesse, as blameless as Emma, is the only other character who comes off consistently well.

As the book progresses and the reader gets to know the characters better, their shortcomings become more understandable and easier to forgive. At the same time, though, the book started to feel too long. It seemed appropriate, though. Seven days is too long to spend cooped up with your family, and it was fitting for the reader to feel that way, too.

Because of the book’s structure, it’s rather obvious how things will unfold—secrets will be revealed, the question of who gets sick will be answered. Life, however, isn’t so binary. After the hurricane hit, what kind of life I had to return to was completely unpredictable.

Thanks to Berkley for the book in exchange for an honest review.