Rachel Joyce had a massive hit with The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry and she returns with this novel, a much darker affair but one that’s every bit as affecting as her previous work.
In 1972, two seconds were added to time and it’s these two seconds that provide the starting off point of the story, with Byron and James intrigued by how time can possibly be changed and the effect these two seconds can have on the world. Byron takes a drive with his mother through Digby Road, an area forbidden by his largely absent father, largely it seems because it’s seen as a place of vastly inferior social standing. It is here that an accident occurs in those two seconds that Byron has flagged up and this has wide reaching repercussions throughout the rest of the novel.
We see an investigation into the effects of the accident from James and Byron and a relationship develops between Byron’s mother and one of the residents of Digby Road. The friendship that emerges here is not an easy one, and there’s a certain amount of class friction at play as these two women spend an increasing amount of time together.
There is a second narrative running alongside this as we encounter the character of Jim, a former resident of Besley Hill that’s spent much of his life institutionalised and now finds himself out living and working in society. This runs alternately with the first story and when we reach the conclusion we can really appreciate the perfection of Joyce’s execution.
The book really highlights how seemingly small moments in time can contain major components of our lives that go unseen at the time but gradually chip away at a person. It’s a deeply moving book and shows Rachel Joyce has a superb knack of creating characters that feel part of ourselves.