Seven Days of Us. Francesca Hornak. Penguin Publishing Group. October 2017, 368 pp.; ISBN#: 9780451488756.
Olivia Birch and Sean, her new romance, have been working in Monrovia, Liberia, treating a deadly virus, Haag, which seems to resemble the volatile, dangerous Ebola virus. The tensions and risks seem to have drawn them together. When they return to England, Olivia and her family are forced into seven days of a quarantine to make sure she doesn’t have the disease or can spread it. Unfortunately, Sean does have it and is immediately hospitalized and quarantined as well.
Emma and Andrew Birch decide the quarantine will be fine as it’s Christmas time and a great time to have a close family celebration. Not surprisingly, it’s a week of shocking revelations and conversations that seem to do nothing but clash and then converge due to some measure of self-control and respect for the family. Dealing with a cancer diagnosis, discovering a son and half-brother, watching a “supposed” romance gradually disappear, acknowledging the sacrifices made for dreams deferred, and so much more fill these pages with alternating tension and fear. These are not loveable characters except for Emma whose background enables her to gracefully calm almost-explosive moments. Olivia is having counter-culture shock on return to British life, Phoebe is snarky and jealous of her sister Olivia, George the lover is cold and aloof, and Andrew is having a hard time dealing with the Pandora’s box that’s opened with past secrets.
Still there are many rather sweet moments where the better sides of this family come to the fore, especially in moments of crisis. Seven days together as a family would probably be a challenge for most families, but this is a story that gives some hints about how to deal with the outrageous and minor idiosyncrasies that emerge when human beings are forced to live in such close proximity with very little to distract them from each other.
Ironically, this is a lovely, somewhat contrived, contemporary fiction story which this reviewer recommends as an interesting, compelling read!