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Days Like This

Days Like This - Alison Stewart 2.5 stars. (This book was a solid 2 star read for me, until the final third, when I found the story became much more engaging.)This is a difficult review to write (and a difficult rating to give), because I wanted to love this book. So badly. I think I went into this novel expecting some kind of awesome hybrid of ‘Tomorrow When the War Began’ and ‘How I Live Now’ – and perhaps I was basing this assumption entirely on the striking cover, which I love. Unfortunately, despite the captivating synopsis, ‘Days Like This’ fell somewhat short of my expectations. Let me just say straight up that I really liked the premise of this novel. Stewart had an intriguing environmental set up for her dystopian Australia, and an interesting concept in the walled enclave of Sydney’s elite. Throw into the mix some genuinely creepy and disturbing ideas about aging, survival, reproduction and the value of beauty, and there was so much potential for this story to be completely compelling. The reality was that, for me, it didn’t really deliver on any of the great ideas put forward. The set up and organisation of the future Sydney felt paper-thin and I just didn’t buy it. I’m willing to suspend belief in a lot of cases, but I couldn’t make myself here. As I read, I found myself distracted by some heavy-handed messages incorporated in the prose, and questioning the world building rather than being immersed in it. In addition, some plot points felt too convenient, too simple, to be truly believable. For example, the hacking of the computer system - It did move the story along, but it felt all too easy for such a tightly policed and restricted world.The prose was not particularly to my taste as it had a curiously wooden feel, which felt… distancing, rather than compelling. Even though the story deals with some heavy subject matter, there is a kind of sterility to the writing. Parts of the dialogue seemed strangely forced and stilted as well. I found myself chortling when a teenaged boy used the expression “for heaven’s sake”, which I don’t think was the intended reaction. Many of the interactions seemed like question and answer type scenarios to get chunks of information across to the reader, rather than opportunities to develop the characters and delve into their motivations. The characterisation itself took more of a ‘telling’ approach, rather than showing - even the supposedly sinister Blacktroopers (terrible name) felt oddly like caricatures of “evil”. Further, at one point Lily, the protagonist, makes the observation of a male character being not only cute, but strong and capable. If this is purely a physical description – fine – but if it was intended to convey aspects of his personality, it didn’t really work, tossed in only a couple of pages and lines of dialogue after he is first introduced. In fact, if anyone in the story embodied the idea of being strong and capable, it was Ingie. That girl was a trooper! More successful was the portrayal Pym and Megan, whose warped personalities were distasteful from the outset. Lily herself was a serviceable enough main character, but I didn’t feel particularly invested in her, despite her problems being serious and the stakes high. The antagonising and aggressive Sal was a much more interesting character than Lily, in my opinion.As mentioned at the outset, I feel like the latter part of the book was the strongest. The tsunami scenes (I’m not spoiling here, you know this happens from the prologue) were intense and graphic, and felt much tighter than some of the earlier dramatic events. From Stewart’s description it was easy to visualise the walls of water sweeping into Sydney Harbour, the terror and devastation in its wake. I found myself caught up in the story at this point, whereas earlier I was pushing myself through it. I’m ambivalent about the ending. I feel like I should have cared much more, like the impact should have been more forceful, that I was feeling what the characters were feeling. I can’t say that I did. It seemed a bit, “this happened” and “then this happened” and “then this person said..” and meanwhile I was thinking ’who is that person again? So while I was happy enough with the resolution, I was disappointed that I didn’t care about it more, and I wasn’t really a fan of the “moral of the story” type vibe to the conclusion. I was excited about this book, and I’m sorry that I can’t rate it higher than I have. Even though the ideas and concepts were brilliant, I didn’t particularly care for the style in which they were executed. I have to say that this one missed the mark for me.