A mother moves to Geneva with her husband and their two young children. In their beautiful new rented apartment, surrounded by their rented furniture, and several Swiss instructions to maintain quiet, she finds herself totally isolated. Her husband’s job means he is almost never present, and her entire world is caring for her children – making sure they are happy, and fed and comfortable, and that they can be seen as the happy, well-fed, comfortable family they should be. Everything is perfect.
But, of course, it’s not. The isolation, the sleeplessness, the demands of two people under two, are getting to Erika. She has never been so alone, and once the children are asleep, there are just too many hours to fill until morning . . .
Kyra Wilder’s Little Bandaged Days is a beautifully written, painfully claustrophobic story about a woman’s descent into madness. Unpredictable, frighteningly compelling and brutally honest, it grapples with the harsh conditions of motherhood and this mother’s own identity, and as the novel continues, we begin to wonder just what exactly Erika might be driven to do.
Huge thanks to Alice Dewing at Picador Books for sending me a paperback copy in exchange for an honest review. I missed this book when it came out in hardback, so I’m delighted to have had the chance to read it now that it has been released in paperback. Little Bandaged Days is another dark, intense story about motherhood, which seems to be the theme I am running with this month, and I absolutely loved it.
The plot is straightforward enough: a woman moves to Switzerland with her husband and their two young children. With M out at work all day (and most nights), Erika is left alone with the children in their new apartment. What follows, however, is anything but simple: a gradual but terrifying slide into a strange unreality, the shapeless days unravelling, time stretching itself out and looping around in a thoroughly disconcerting way.
Wilder brings us so deeply into the mind of her protagonist that we see ‘reality’ through her eyes – and as she loses her grip, the reader is thrown headlong into the same sense of confusion and doubt. This is one of the most vivid, immersive portrayals of mental instability I have ever read. Everything that Erika sees and feels is real to her, and so, it becomes real to the reader. We are not allowed to adopt a rational, objective position – we are inside the mind that is coming undone, and it is an all-consuming experience. Terrible things happen in this book, but we rarely see the ‘truth’ until it is too late. Instead we are carried along on Erika’s bright, bubbling stream of enthusiasm that she keeps up with the kids, making everything into a game, constructing a perfect image of her family and willing herself to believe it. The cracks creep in so slowly, hairline fractures that trace their way across the book like veins of mould, so that the true extent of the damage comes as a shock.
The language in this novel is exquisite. The prose is so evocative and sensory, it is like being inside a poem as well as a psyche: the descriptions of food, of the games Erika plays with her children, and above all of the apartment, are so detailed and tactile and tangible – I felt as if I was there alongside them, tasting, feeling, smelling the rotting lemons and peering into the half-light of the darkened flat. It is hard to describe just how clever this book is – it not only pulls you right into Erika’s world, it holds you tightly, floods your senses, refuses to let you go – it is at times uncomfortably like being trapped. And this works SO well for the themes the novel explores – both motherhood and madness feel inescapable here. The only times I was able to pull myself out were in order to huff and puff at M’s behaviour, which Erika is far too accepting of, but my god, if ever there was a partner who misses the signs that all is not well, it is that man!
This is an extremely powerful, really quite harrowing book that left me horrified, but also in awe of Kyra Wilder’s talent as a writer. I don’t think I have read anything quite like this before. I loved the way this book is written: the prose is just so beautiful, sharp and clear and prismatic as cut glass, and I am excited to read more of this author’s work in the future.
Little Bandaged Days by Kyra Wilder is out now in paperback and is available to purchase here.