Book Review: “In 27 Days” by Alison Gervais (@Ally_Gervais @BlinkYABooks)

 

Thanks to a tween friend’s recommendation, I recently had the pleasure of reading In 27 Days by Alison Gervais (Blink, 2017). Originally started on Wattpad as a story published chapter by chapter online, the book is a fast and fluent read. There are clear signs that throughout the writing process, the author was sure of where she wanted the story to go and how it should get there. In other words, the story’s development was not affected by reader input.

In this book, the first-person narrator Hadley describes how she is shocked by the suicide of a classmate named Archer. Unsure why she is deeply disturbed by the tragedy, Hadley goes to Archer’s funeral and is approached by a man who calls himself Death. Accepting Death’s offer, she goes back in time to prevent Archer from ending his life. She gets to go back 27 days because “it is the amount of time it took Archer to first consider taking his own life and then to finally go through with it” (p.36).

This is a fascinating idea, especially when Death’s motive is taken into consideration. In his own words:

“The gift of life is valuable, something to be treasured. And it’s a travesty when something like that is snatched away too early. I’ve been around for thousands of years, seen thousands of things, but I have never seen something as terrible as a soul being taken away when it didn’t need to be. So, tell me, Hadley. If you had the chance to prevent something bad from happening, despite everything you were afraid of and what might happen… would you do it?” (p.34)

Interestingly, after Hadley accepts Death’s offer, he warns her: “There are things in this world that have a…set order. And sometimes there are…things that aren’t too happy when that order is disrupted. Sometimes they don’t like it.” (p.37) One of these things appears later in the book in the form of a man called Havoc, who presents his own case:

“You can’t mess with time like this. There is an order to the universe, and therefore there are consequences for every action you take. There are consequences for every second Archer spends alive when he should be dead. And these consequences aren’t something I’m so sure you’re prepared to deal with… People kill themselves. That’s the way it’s been since the beginning of time, and that’s the way it’s always going to be.” (p.199-200)

I find it intriguing that “havoc” as a word was originally used in the phrase cry havoc (Old French crier havot), i.e. “to give an army the order havoc”, which was the signal for plundering. To me, it reads like someone or something can be allowed and even authorised to cause havoc – to create destruction, confusion and disorder in order to serve a specific purpose. In this case, the so-called “set order to the universe” needs to be maintained at all costs. Havoc serves as a means to this end, while Death rebels against this course of the universe because he values the “gift of life” above all.

I guess it all comes down to whether Death is an “autonomous agent”. Indeed, in recent years I find myself increasingly drawn to stories that challenge conventional idea(l)s of anything and everything. Stories, as they are told, remembered and celebrated, face the risk of becoming institutionalised. Hence I enjoy seeing storytelling as an act, or at least an attempt, to constantly break out of and away from its old mould/mode, to constantly regenerate and reform, to repeatedly revolutionise and liberate itself. Think of shapeshifting, which, according to Wikipedia, is “usually achieved through an inherent ability of a mythological creature, divine intervention or the use of magic”. Assuming there is and will always be a lack of intervention of any sort in our literary world, I suppose we can strive to learn the craft of magic. But to make a story inherently capable of shapeshifting is surely an art.

More details about In 27 Days by Alison Gervais can be found here.

 

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