Toni Jordan’s Nine Days is a non-linear historical fiction novel that tells the stories of two generations of Westaways, a fictional family situated in Richmond, Victoria. Jordan was inspired by a 1940 photographic collection in the Argus, specifically the photo depicted on the cover, which informs the characters of Connie Westaway and Jack Husting. Like many of the photographs, Nine Days captures domestic spaces, adopting a style of both realism and impressionism to show the experiences of those at home.
The novel also employs a polyphonic structure, fragmenting the story into vignettes that capture nine significant days in the lives of the Westaways and their close relations. Central to the story is the love affair of Jack Husting and Connie Westaway, whose actions and fates influence multiple characters both past and present. Furthermore, many of the vignettes depict significant moments in history, such as World War II, the fall of the Berlin Wall and 9/11, all of which appear in the background and influence the characters’ lives both psychologically and materially.
Although the two eras of Nine Days at first appear drastically different, Jordan’s novel primarily invites readers to consider the parallels drawn between the stories. At the individual level, family is shown to create invisible threads that influence one’s identity and life decisions. People often view life as an individual journey guided by personal choices, but Nine Days questions this philosophy and examines how subtle links to strangers can drastically change the course of one’s life. The novel is thus about community as much as it is about the individual. At the social level, readers are also encouraged to observe the continuities and changes that develop between the time jumps. Issues that invite comparison include human conflict, family structures, gender norms, technology, class, and cultural divisions. The author aims to show how certain characters struggle because of the social, political and economic conditions of their time. Hence, the non-linear, polyphonic style of narrative guides the readers in drawing constant comparisons between vignettes. Ultimately, Jordan asks readers to question the dichotomies between individual and community, and between past and present.
Gender Roles (Women’s Agency and Toxic Masculinity)
Nine Days thoroughly examines the consequences of living in a patriarchal society, and how values surrounding gender have changed between the 1940s and today. Characters such as Connie and Charlotte are juxtaposed to reveal how ideas on pre-marital sex, abortion and reproductive rights affect women throughout time differently. Jean above all understands that Australian society in the 1940s would have shunned Connie and her family for her transgressions, noting that “it’s always the women who wear [shame]” (220). Whilst through Charlotte and Stanzi’s dialogue the reader observes that society has changed, it is also evident that the taboos around abortion have not completely disappeared; “No one asks a man if a foetus of theirs has been aborted.” (134). Patriarchal values also negatively impact the men in Nine Days. Jordan particularly condemns toxic masculinity through Jack and Alec’s vignettes, where the men face peer pressure in regards to not being ‘manly’ enough. Where Alec is accused of being a “pussy” for not participating in dangerous behaviour (267), Jack is accused of “lacking in the spine department” for not enlisting in the army (82). In each case, Jordan highlights the negative consequences of strict gender roles and societal pressures.
War and Loss
Although readers never see any first-hand accounts of war, as the text navigates the ‘home’ front, the psychological and material effects of war are constantly emphasised. The imagery of the “holes in the crowd” captures the human loss of war at a large scale, but Jordan also examines personal loss through the grief of the women and family at home. For instance, the death of Jack Husting has a huge impact on the Hustings and Westaways. Some families such as Annabel’s contrastingly benefitted from war, allowing women to work and have an income. The psychological effects of war are also explored in Stanzi’s vignette, which takes place shortly after the events of 9/11. Stanzi’s narration captures the anxiety felt by many following the terrorist attacks. Lastly, Jordan explores the naivety surrounding human conflict; the common perception of it as distant and unlikely to occur in one’s lifetime. Francis, Charlotte, Violet and Alec all make claims about the unlikelihood of war in the future, yet the reader sees most these proven wrong.
Class defines the lives of many characters in Nine Days, restricting agency and opportunity. Jean sees her family as “halfway up the hill” (10), in both a physical sense and social; this means that the Westaways, although fairly respectable, live precariously and struggle to retain their status. They are particularly looked down upon by the Hustings (largely also due to religious differences, which intersected with class at the time), a divide that inhibits Jack and Connie from loving freely. The struggle is also material; Francis compares how Jean “peeled the potatoes” (259) before and after his father’s death to show how little they had afterwards. However, it is evident that through sacrifices and changing times, the Westaways are able to live comfortably in the more recent eras of the novel. Charlotte seems to be the only one struggling financially in her own vignette, as Stanzi is shown to be an educated professional with a “couch” that “cost a fortune” (38).
Ethnic and Religious Divide
Ethnic and religious divisions undergo perhaps the most positive changes in Nine Days. Whilst Australian attitudes in the 1940s were xenophobic, especially towards Asia and Japan, as seen through the constant use of the derogative term “Nips” in the wartime and post-war vignettes, in the 2000s the reader is presented with a very different image. Alec compares Richmond to “Saigon”, hinting at a multicultural landscape that would’ve been unimaginable in the 1940s. Jordan also showcases how religious divisions hurt individuals and communities in Australia during the 1940s. The Westaways are Roman Catholic (and are thus presumed to have Irish roots), whilst the Hustings are Protestants (thus presumed to have English roots). Ava Husting especially expresses prejudices towards the Westaways because of this, refusing to let Kip inside the house. Once again, Jack and Connie suffer the most due to this divide, as it prevents them from creating a respectable union in Ava Husting’s eyes. It is however important to acknowledge that religion and spirituality is not condemned in Nine Days, as it is also represented as something that brings comfort in times of hardship (for example, there are mentions of going to church during war, and Charlotte seeks comfort in her own spiritual practices).
Family ties together the stories and characters in Nine Days, and is for the most part represented as a source of support and joy. It is also represented as a bridge between the past and the present, where individuals influence each other’s’ identities and life choices. The Westaway family is referred to as a “a 3D painting: Escher-style, one layer on top of another, different times, different people” (255), as Jordan aims to remove the dichotomy between individual and community by acknowledging the way family consists of individuals making up a ‘whole’. The novel also tracks the way family values change over time, by depicting a series of conventional and unconventional families (whilst Annabel and Kip create a nuclear family, Charlotte’s own family reflects the changing times). However, family is not always represented in a positive light; Jordan also elucidates how it is possible for members of the same family to appear similar and yet have completely different values. Jack Husting’s relationship with his parents is exemplary of this, but more subtly so are the representations of twin-ship (Stanzi and Charlotte, like Kip and Francis, do not value the same things and see each other as vastly different).
Modernity & Changing Landscapes
Because all of the vignettes in Nine Days are situated in Richmond, Victoria, the text places a strong focus on place, and how it is subject to transform over time. In the early twentieth century, Richmond was considered a ‘slum,’ a highly populated place with many working-class residents. Jean also notes the “dust and soot” that pollutes the area, alluding to the countless factories that were active especially during the war. Jordan thus also explores the anxieties surrounding these types of modern, urban landscapes undergoing rapid industrialisation and technological change. Jack Husting expresses great discomfort towards the city, contending that if people were to leave it their “hearts would open” (74). This anxiety appears once again in the modern vignettes, where Charlotte represents fears towards new technologies (e.g. mobile phones). However, changing landscapes and modernity are also represented positively; Richmond in Alec’s vignette is represented as a modern, multicultural place worthy of admiration.
Love acts as a central force in Nine Days, linking characters to each other through family and romantic relationships alike. Love is represented by Jordan as something that is worth experiencing even when it means transgressing the social expectations of the era. Jack and Connie’s relationship epitomizes this, as the final chapter reveals that despite the consequences the affair brings a joy and happiness (however temporary) that will not be forgotten. The most impressionistic scenes of Nine Days capture moments of love; when Kip admires Annabel against the wall, or when Jack admires Connie dancing – these moments are emphasised by Jordan as the joys of life. Stanzi also compares love to a “coin”, because it connects people to “strangers” they’ve “never met” (69). This is evident in the way both material objects (such as the shilling) and characters (such as Kip) connect the contemporary Westaway characters with characters such as Connie, who would otherwise be strangers.
Many of the characters in Nine Days experience social pressures, and have significant life-changing moments as a result of these experiences. Social pressure in Nine Days ties in heavily with themes of respectability, status and gender, and describes the ways people are psychologically affected by societal expectations or people’s perceptions of them. Francis and Alec are juxtaposed in their reactions to social pressures; the latter crumbles under the peer pressure and commits a crime that alters his life course, whilst Alec refuses to submit and saves his own life as a result. The women also particularly struggle with social pressures, as seen through Jean and Stanzi, both of whom concern themselves heavily with questions of outward appearances and struggle to retain respectability. It can also be argued that Jack Husting falls victim to the social pressures placed on men to enlist in the army, as Connie later notes “I think he didn’t want to go after all” (211).
Education is one of the minor themes in Nine Days, yet is used by Jordan to elucidate how opportunities and freedoms have been expanded upon since the 1940s. One of the comparisons drawn is between Alec and Connie Westaway, both of whom share a passion for art. Whilst Alec takes school for granted, readers see through Connie the sacrifices that women in the 1940s had to make for their families, education being one. Kip’s comparison of Connie’s hands before and after leaving art school is symbolic of this sacrifice, as her “broken off” nails imply suffering and hardship (28). Jordan also reveals through Kip’s experiences how psychological trauma affects one’s education and opportunities in life; following the death of his father, Kip quits school despite being told by Francis that it would be a mistake.
Sample Textual Analysis:
“I try to imagine it [the Westaway family] as a 3D painting: Escher-style, one layer on top of another…Ghosts walking among us.”
By alluding to Escher’s multi-layered, interdimensional work, Jordan elucidates the function of family and kinship within Nine Days. Jordan’s comparison of the Westaways to a “3D painting…one layer on top of another” allows the reader to picture the family as an interconnected whole, and to thus consider how family shapes one’s values and decisions across time. The spectral imagery of “ghosts walking among us” likewise creates the sense that people such as Connie, Jack and other deceased persons continue to have a presence in the lives of the living, of their descendants.
“It should be all over now…but there are holes in the crowd. People missing who should be dancing and talking and living and breathing.”
Jordan’s use of a polysyndeton in her description of the “missing” soldiers, who should be “dancing and talking and living and breathing”, emphasizes the tragic effects of war for the readership. Verbs connoted with living, such as “dancing”, “talking”, “breathing” couple onto one another in a breathless manner. This invites the readers to see war as an unjust loss rather than as a victory for Australians. The imagery of “holes” in the crowd further paints a literal representation of death, and of the loss experienced by those at home.
“The Americans won’t invade […] we’re evolved […] ‘enlightened’”
Violet Crouch’s assumption that “the Americans won’t invade” creates dramatic irony for contemporary readers aware of the American invasion of Iraq following 9/11. Jordan likewise uses irony through Violet in her claim that humans have “evolved” and have become “enlightened” by past historical conflicts. This allows the reader to conclude that humans have in fact not “evolved” and are not “enlightened,” as Jordan critiques the human tendency to repeat history.
“’A girl photographer.’ He raises his arms and pulls on the clothing line […] ‘That’s stupid’” (98)
Francis “raises his arms and pulls on the clothing line” in-between his claim that the idea of a “girl photographer” is “stupid”. This movement of physically exerting pressure on the clothing line, a stereotypically feminine object, is symbolic of the social pressures exerted by men like Francis in a patriarchal society. The idea that women could not have a career outside of the home or in a manner that was artistic rather than utilitarian is thus presented here by Jordan as one of the many restrictions placed on women in the 1940s.