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Review: A Lifetime Of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

on October 12, 2020

A Lifetime Of Impossible Days 
Tabitha Bird
Penguin Random House AUS
2019, 395p
Copy courtesy of the author

Blurb {from the publisher/}:

Meet Willa Waters, aged 8 . . . 33 . . . and 93.

On one impossible day in:

1965, eight-year-old Willa Waters receives a mysterious box containing a jar of water and the instruction: ‘One ocean: plant in the backyard.’ So she does – and somehow creates an extraordinary time-slip that allows her to visit her future selves.

On one impossible day in:

1990, Willa is 33 and a mother-of-two when her childhood self magically appears in her backyard. But she’s also a woman haunted by memories of her dark past – and is on the brink of a decision that will have tragic repercussions . . .

On one impossible day in:

2050 Willa is a silver-haired, gumboot-loving 93-year-old whose memory is fading fast. Yet she knows there’s something she has to remember, a warning she must give her past selves about a terrible event in 1990 . . . If only she could recall what it was.

Can the three Willas come together, to heal their past and save their future . . . before it’s too late?

This book has been on my TBR bookshelf for quite a while. I’ve been wanting to read it but I knew I’d have to be in the perfect mood to be able to do so, having been warned that it does contain reference to some pretty dark stuff. The perfect day came recently when I spotted it and somehow just knew that it was the right time.

This is an ambitious debut, taking in three different times in the life of Willa, who is 8, 33 and 93 in this novel. At 93, she urgently posts two boxes: one to her childhood self and one to “middle Willa”, who is as the name suggests, in the middle. The boxes contain “one ocean: plant in the backyard” and when both 8yo Willa and 33yo Willa do so (33yo Willa reluctantly/inadvertently), the mango tree in the backyard allows the three Willas to travel between the timeframes. For 93yo Willa, she’s desperate to “go back” and fix things in her life, change the outcome. For 8yo Willa, it’s the chance to get away from the lurking danger and if she’s successful, it may change the way that 33yo Willa feels and the damage she is about to do to her life.

This is a really difficult book to review because the three Willas cross in and out of each other’s times and interact in different combinations a lot of the time. However despite this, you get a clear picture of each of them and where they’re at in their lives – and in terms of the later Willas, how they got there in a way. The youngest Willa is defiant and angry but also desperately scared and traumatised as well. She’s blocked out a significant event and is struggling with the meaning of that as well as trying to protect her younger sister. Middle Willa has carved a life for herself away from her childhood home but she struggles with the events that shaped her. When her son spills the jar of water, “planting” the ocean, her life as she knows it shifts and changes and it takes her a while to find her equilibrium with what is happening. At first Middle Willa doesn’t want anything to do with the mango tree or the ocean that allows the Willas to interact with her each other, much to the frustration and anger of Super Gumboots Willa, the 8 year old. All the Willas are brilliantly rendered but I think 93yo Willa for many reasons, sticks with me. It’s her determination, her single-mindedness to do this, even though she’s at a time in her life where she’s very forgetful. She has to write everything down so she doesn’t forget and as the story unfolds, it’s clear that some of the things she’s forgotten are perhaps her mind’s way of coping with what has happened. She’s trying to avoid going into an assisted living facility (nursing home) at all costs even though it’s becoming apparent that she’s a bit of a danger to herself on her own. Her interactions with her carer and also her daughter and son are so powerful and set the scene of her age and determination so well.

There’s a creeping darkness in this book, it’s not immediately obvious although there’s things that 93yo Willa wants to change but it takes a while for everything to be revealed, what Willa has been through and how it affected her life, the life of her younger sister, the lives of her children, her husband, her grandmother. The bond young Willa shares with her grandmother is an incredible one and it’s clear that her grandmother is perhaps the biggest and most positive influence in her life. Willa’s mother is not in a good place, struggling with grief and coping with violence and at times she seems to demand too much of her daughters and I can’t decide if she wasn’t able to face the reality of their situation or just didn’t want to. The scenes from Middle Willa’s life seem to suggest probably the latter.

It took me a little while to settle into the story and the changing narrative of the three Willas and the ways in which they were popping in and out of each other’s specific times but when I did, I found myself really invested in this powerful novel and the story of Willa trying to help her younger selves so that they might live better lives. It’s really well written with strongly defined characters and despite some of the subject matter, there’s such a feeling of hope about the story, like you feel like anything is possible. Will definitely read more by Tabitha Bird in the future.


Book #198 of 2020

This is book #76 read for The Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2020

3 responses to “Review: A Lifetime Of Impossible Days by Tabitha Bird

  1. I didn’t realise you hadn’t read this! I felt much the same as you. A uniquely inventive yet powerful story.

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