A family drama / saga styled novel, with crime overtones, DAYS ARE LIKE GRASS is beautifully written. Moving, descriptive, populated by fully realised characters there is much in this novel that is thought-provoking, and profoundly affecting.
Avoiding any sense of voyeurism or manipulation, Sue Younger has constructed a multi-layered story about consequences, and past and present actions. Paediatric surgeon, mother, lover, Claire is a woman with a past. She's driven to want the best for her patients - often times victims of abuse and disadvantage - her controlled nature creates difficulties in her professional and personal lives.
Many years before a young female hitch-hiker disappeared in New Zealand, after accepting a lift from a man she didn't know. Claire, on the other hand, knows the man and lives with the consequences of his actions every day. The man was her father, someone many people think is a rapist and murderer. Claire has lived with the whispers and the looks ever since. Why she's returned to New Zealand with her fifteen-year-old daughter Roimata and her fiance Yossi makes sense on one level, and seems unfathomable on another - especially when a local reporter notices the connection when reporting on the tussle over the fate of a young patient.
In the middle of the friction between her own past and present, between the parents of her young patient and Claire's own insistence on the correct pathways for treatment, there's extra pressure when Roimata's father's family reach out as well. Somehow in the middle of all of this, the calm, loving, patient Yossi even starts to feel like a problem as he agitates to get married, for them to be a traditional family, even as he seems increasingly content with his life.
Needless to say a lot of drama, a lot of pressure, and a lot of potential for things to get badly out of control. All of which feels perfectly realistic as Claire is such a fragile, tightly wound character, not destined to cope well with the piling on of problems. As a central character for such a story, she's an interesting undertaking. Frequently unlikable, nearly constantly frustrating, the default setting for most readers will be to turn to the opposing forces. It's tempting to call something like that a "brave" move on the part of the author, but it actually makes enormous sense in terms of the narrative. This is the story of a difficult life, impacted upon by pressures that couldn't be avoided, blighted always by the spectre of her father. Claire's flawed, human, and whilst you might not agree with everything she ever does, says or believes in, you can't help but empathise with a woman who is struggling to let go of control, struggling with the difficulties of easing up on barriers she's spent a lifetime constructing.
Whilst this reader might have some issues with the definition of DAYS ARE LIKE GRASS as a crime novel, in that the consequences of crime are more indirect than usually expected, I'm more than happy to be accused of quibbling over minutiae. It is most definitely an exceptional reading experience.