Vesna Main’s novel within a novel is mostly composed of a conversation between a husband and wife who discuss the wife’s novel-in-progress about a husband (Richard) and wife (Anna). Their daily chats often begin with the casual question “Good day?” – hence the title of this book. The wife’s novel is about how Anna discovers that Richard has been visiting prostitutes for years and the subsequent breakdown of their relationship. The writer and her husband discuss the moral complexity of this situation and its emotional impact on all the characters involved. And while listening to her describe details of the plot and characterizations, the husband grows increasingly frustrated at the liberties the wife takes in borrowing names and situations from their real life and putting them in her novel. The line between fact and fiction blurs so there’s an intriguing suspense where the reader wonders about the truth of this couple’s life. But it also raises questions about the dynamic interplay between the imagination and sex as a physical act. While this might all sound too meta-fictional and self-conscious, there’s a wonderfully comic tone to the situation as well as a poignancy in certain sections where there’s a clear disconnect or breakdown between them.
Relationships, fidelity and sex are infinitely complex subjects – that’s why there are so many novels about them! So I admire how this novel approaches these issues in a refreshing style which shows how they can be entangled with the fragility of our egos. In a way, the wife and husband’s dilemmas are entirely imagined (like the child in Edward Albee’s play ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) and the drama that plays out from their conversation is in some ways for the sake of drama itself rather than any real betrayal. We form narratives in our heads about the multitude of relationships we have with people and these can become dangerously fixed in stone. Main’s story shows how these relationships can be tested out in our minds before being played out in reality or forgotten. But the novel also takes seriously the perspective of the prostitutes and one in particular named Tanya. The wife and husband’s conversations regarding plotlines about them show how our attitudes towards prostitution are wrapped up in judgements and how uncomfortable we are openly discussing sex in our society.
The novel also obviously plays a lot with issues to do with creative writing itself and the function which fiction serves. When do stories feel true to life and at what point do they become cliched? Do we need to sympathise with characters in order to have empathy for them? Should fiction be read as a veiled form of autobiography or a work entirely created in the imagination? These are all questions “Good Day?” raises and toys with in a compelling way. Like “We Are Made of Diamond Stuff” this is another novel I was compelled to read because of its listing for this year’s Goldsmiths Prize. It certainly takes an innovative approach in dealing with common plotlines about relationships and twisting them on their heads. And there’s a deliciously teasing way in which this novel ultimately asks if we’re writing our own stories or are our stories writing us?