When the pandemic started, many people – including myself – thought that no one would want to read fiction set during this time. On top of the fact that this is a disaster we are all living through, everyone was stuck in their homes learning to make their own bread and hoping they had enough toilet paper. Who would want to read about that?
You can imagine my surprise when covid-centered books began to trickle in.
Not to mention the surprise I am feeling now, recommending one of these books to you.
56 DAYS by CATHERINE RYAN HOWARD is set in Ireland at the very beginning of the pandemic. Two people, Oliver and Ciara, went on a date 56 days ago after meeting in a supermarket queue; 35 days ago – when Ireland’s lockdown began – they were both facing two weeks alone in their apartments and decided to quarantine together. Today, a team of detectives arrived at Oliver’s apartment, where they found a decomposing body in his bathroom.
As they sift through the evidence, we jump back to moments from the past eight weeks. Seeing the story play out from both Oliver’s and Ciara’s perspective.
Oliver is new in town, working at an architecture firm run by one of his brother’s friends. He is staying in a lavish, company-owned apartment. Ciara works customer service at a cloud computing company and lives in a tiny studio apartment nearby.
When lockdown began, they were really hitting it off – texting constantly and feeling like they could not go two weeks without seeing each other. With few friends in the city and Oliver in possession of a second bedroom to Ciara’s zero, it seemed like the perfect time to try living together. But they were both keeping secrets, and soon one of them would be dead.
When Oliver first sees Ciara, he suspects she is a journalist. He has been harassed by the press before, and decides to play along with her for a bit to see if he can figure out who she works for. But as he gets to know her better, his suspicions ease.
Ciara has barely any social media presence, and a quick call to the cloud computing firm she works for verifies that she really does work there. So Oliver lets his guard down, and begins to feel like the two of them really could be happy together.
What the reader doesn’t know yet is that Oliver is a convicted murderer. When he was a child, he and a friend were responsible for the death of a younger boy.
When the lockdown comes he sees it as a chance to let Ciara get to know him before she finds out what he did – to get to know the person that he is now, without the context of who he used to be.
For her part, Ciara is mostly alone in the world. Her mother is ill, and she and her sister barely talk. After a slightly awkward first meeting, she and Oliver seem to be really clicking, and she is eager to get to know him better. Everything else we know about Ciara is a lie.
56 Days is designed to keep you on your toes. As we see more of their lives, and discover more of their secrets, everything we know about Oliver and Ciara changes – recontextualizing every moment of their short history.
The most jarring example of this change is the moment they met, 56 days ago. The scene in the supermarket queue is repeated multiple times throughout the book.
First we hear Ciara’s perspective – surprise when Oliver addresses her, her first impression that he is someone who moves through life easily, and her choice to shut down their conversation or let him into her life.
Later in the book we hear Oliver’s – suspicion that he’s seen Ciara five times this week, even though he’s gone to lunch at a slightly different time every day, and interest in the bag she’s carrying.
When we hear their first meeting for the final time, the implications have come into focus. We know who they both are, we know what they have both done, and we know why Ciara has followed Oliver into this market five days in a row.
But, just when you think you know everything, 56 DAYS still has another secret up its sleeve.