It may sound amiss to say a novel about torture is beautiful, but in the case of Glen Duncan's seventh novel, A Day and a Night and a Day, the adjective is oddly fitting. Duncan takes his protagonist, Augustus Rose, to his physical and emotional limits, exposing what happens to a man when he is dramatically tested by pain—and by love. The novel is beautiful not necessarily for what is revealed in this process, but for its masterful execution and for the humanity with which it is told.
Moving deftly between three periods in Augustus' life, Duncan weaves together the story of a boy born in Harlem to a single white mother and an absent African-American father in 1948. He chronicles Augustus' affair with Selina, a lovely white woman with whom he tumbles into love during the late '60s; his day and a night and a day 40 years later, where the torture he endures by Harper, a fellow American, will define every moment to follow; and his attempt to find solitude on the remote European island of Calansay, which is interrupted by yet another act of violence.
Ultimately each of these stories informs the other, resulting in a rich understanding of Augustus' character and how he went from a young man passionately consumed with love, to an unfulfilled middle-aged restaurateur, to a late-in-life terrorist hanging by his wrists in a cell. Duncan is at his most brilliant in his intimate passages describing Augustus' torture. With careful attention to detail that remarkably avoids the stereotypical guts and gore, these haunting scenes make every nerve come alive and the blood, sweat and fear palpable.
Duncan, who was born in Northern England to an Anglo-Indian family, has called his novel an "examination of two kinds of lawlessness, the lawlessness that tramples the Geneva Convention, and the joyous lawlessness of love." In the end, A Day and a Night and a Day is his portrayal of a world in crisis and his attempt to tell the story of a world gone feral through the very intimate experiences of one man, in one cell, facing the hands of his torturer.
Kim Schmidt writes from Champaign, Illinois.