If you’re looking for a really easy read that keeps you intrigued this book is a good choice – you could whiz through this in just a week or two. One Moment, One Morning is about how the lives of three women are intertwined as a result of a horrific incident on the morning train from Brighton to London.
It begins as any other normal morning would, with sleepy commuters slumped on the train either listening to music, reading the paper, drinking coffee… Lou observes a couple opposite her, chatting away to each other. They seem happy, she thinks. But not a second after Lou is warmed by their happiness has the carriage erupted into commotion, the man violently vomiting then collapsing head-first on the tray table in front of him: dead.
Simon’s wife, Karen, blames herself. She should have known when he complained of heartburn on the way to the station, she should have realized he wasn’t well. But that doesn’t matter now; they were on their way to sign the contracts for a new house, but those will remain unsigned and their two small children will never see their daddy again.
The novel covers just one week of time, the chapters split up into days. It follows Karen as she desperately tries to hold it together, small objects and routines reminding her of Simon and how sudden and unfairly he disappeared from their lives. It details accounts of Karen’s best friend Anna, who was also travelling on the train that day, and how she assumes her role in supporting Karen whilst struggling with an alcoholic boyfriend. And then there’s Lou, the stranger who witnessed it all, who promised her late father she’d never tell her mother she was gay.
What strikes the reader most in this narrative is how easily a normal life can be turned upside down, and how differently each individual feels about what life has dealt them. Throughout the novel the characters of Anna and Lou begin to relate their lives to Simon’s death, and the choices they make that week are shaped considerably by what they have seen happen to Karen. I personally felt the frustration from all three women as they battled to let go of their pasts, because this is something I’m terrible at myself! The future is daunting, even more so when your loved ones aren’t there to guide you.
I felt the ending of the novel was a little bit cliche – Karen and her family are planting in a new allotment, which is something Simon had always wanted to do. Planting new seeds has long been a metaphor for both a new start and keeping a spirit alive, but it was an appropriate way to bring the characters together to symbolize the start of a new era.
I think Karen’s character in particular was a little flawed, or perhaps it was that her mentality was not explored in enough depth. There are understandably cracks in her shell, including an incident with a salad bowl, but I could never imagine being so calm and collected during such a traumatic period. If Karen was naturally a strong person, I did not see enough evidence in other parts of her life to believe it. If she was trying to put on a front for her family and friends, she didn’t falter enough to suggest this either. So when it came to the closing scene in the allotment it felt all bland; I’d been waiting for Karen to do something or be something more than she was. Like a salad with no dressing, pretty much.
Nevertheless, I can’t say that this was a book I didn’t enjoy. In some ways it explores death much like Life After Life in the way that it creeps up unexpectedly, and no matter how much you scrutinize yourself there’s no guarantee you could have done anything to change it. I liked the way Anna and Lou were involved in the narrative, and how the reader is able to draw parallels between each of their ‘dilemmas’, demonstrating how the intensity of other people’s problems can throw a new perspective on your own.