Aside from the uninspiring cover, The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin lives up to its title in recounting the most unordinary tale in a truly beguiling fashion. Opening on day one of our elderly protagonist arriving in Berlin, the novel goes on to flit between his past and present life that is shared over the course of his six-day stay.
Whilst the novel sets out feeling like a charming tale of a normal old man’s history, the reader soon realises the magical element of the story that transforms the dialogue of the plot. From the age of six, Alfred Warner has been able to hear the voices of three ancient women that advise and guide him through life. Visiting his estranged granddaughter in Germany, Alfred soon discovers the pain the inherited voices have caused her and, knowing he only has six days to live, must save her life before his impending death.
With the constant interjections of internal voices, one might think that Conlin would naturally adopt a first person account, but her choice of third person narrative proves pleasantly refreshing.
Conlin perfects the skill of building multi-layered storyline that does not falter in any of the varying plotlines. What grips the reader throughout this over 400-page novel are the constant cliff-hangers that, in addition to writing skill, succeed in attaching the reader desperately to each time frame. Reminiscent of The Time Traveller’s Wife, this novel journeys from past to present with a supernatural element that is believable enough to break the heart of any reader.
Parallel to a mix of time frames, or indeed the result of, seems to exist a myriad of genres that render the novel so multi-faceted in form. Journeying from Germany to Scotland and back again, Alfred’s rich history takes the reader through war-time struggles in Nazi Germany, the passions of love and lust to suicide and mental illness in the 21st century. Full of drama, Conlin avoids the risk of over informing readers with contextual history and instead focuses on the intimacy of relationships and the evolving tone of the women’s voices. The ever-changing environment wrings out extreme emotional reaction that ranges from unrelenting heartbreak at Alfred’s losses to genuine terror at the sinister voices that his granddaughter experiences.
A fantastic read that never dulls and is impossible to tear away from, The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days is a skilled amalgamation of history and variety of plot that mimics the multiplicity of the mystical voices who indirectly steer the novel. It is surprising that it is not on the tables of Waterstones’ bestsellers as, like Audrey Niffenegger’s infamous novel, Conlin’s efforts are worthy of Hollywood.
The Uncommon Life of Alfred Warner in Six Days by Juliet Conlin.
(Black & White Publishing, 2017)
Image: Les Chatfield via Flickr.