Ruby Soames manages to marry tender subject matter with a remarkably compelling plot in Seven Days to Tell You, rendering it the sort of book that begs to be read under certain conditions – an engagement-free Sunday would do, ideally a rainy one accompanied by few interruptions and copious mugs of tea. The novel opens with the unanticipated return of Marc, the hitherto delinquent husband of the narrator, Kate, and is framed by a neat and captivating ultimatum: Marc has one week to justify his three-year absence – which began with no warning and ensued with no explanation or contact throughout – after which point his wife can accept or reject his reconciliation efforts. This challenge touches off a poignant exploration of pain and passion, an emotive symposium on the limits of love and the corollaries of a marriage unraveled.
Thanks to the novel’s first-person voice, Kate immediately earns the sympathy of readers, even before we’re enlightened about the finer points of her personality or the events shaping her current predicament. This allegiance remains steadfast as the non-linear storyline sees her revisit the early days of her romance with Marc, share the harrowing side effects of his desertion – “For nearly three years, I haven’t slept, not slept like people do, abandoned, untroubled” – and question the possibility of repairing a relationship so fundamentally tarnished. Because our understanding of Marc’s disappearance is directly aligned with Kate’s at any given point, we find ourselves wholly invested in resolving the enigma, not unlike detective fiction readers desperate to get to the bottom of a whodunit. Still, Seven Days is hardly your token mystery; the narrative throbs with raw emotion, imbuing each page with Kate’s distress and frustration – so much so that our mounting desire for resolution is as likely motivated by sheer empathy for the protagonist as our own self-serving curiosity.
In a telling reflection of her role as a cardiologist, Kate’s emotional trek takes the shape of a methodical and thorough dissection of her past, a postmortem of a relationship sullied. This investigation into the formative episodes of her youth and the origins of her relationship with Marc lends itself to a number of convenient flashbacks and divertissements that serve to further our intrigue and prolong the narrative’s looming resolution. A quick précis of Kate’s job towards the start of the novel foreshadows the bleakness she anticipates, even after answers are discovered and a conclusion is reached: “I open the bonnet, tinker around, try to fix what’s gone wrong. That’s all. I can never make [patients] like they were before the accident, or illness.” Her pessimistic conjectures prove well-founded as she stumbles past difficult questions – “Can you still love someone when they are no longer there?” – and reaches upsetting inferences – “…while our marriage had been everything in my life, for you, perhaps it was just background noise” – throughout her reverie. Evocative glimpses of the unique form of grief invoked by Marc’s desertion remind us that a state of limbo can spur more pain than concrete bad news: “The last time I went to identify a body that might have been his… I was disappointed when it wasn’t. I wanted all this finished.”
Having rallied our total support for Kate, Soames can afford to expose some of the protagonist’s more unsavoury traits without jeopardizing the loyalty of her readers. Indeed, Kate’s introspective journey over the course of the novel reveals a proclivity for naivety and emotional feebleness in the presence of Marc, her ambivalence about monogamy (which she likens to slavery at one point), her habitual use of “human shields” to deflect the pain of abandonment. Each instance of dissolute behavior not only heightens the narrative tension but also serves to temper Kate’s martyr-like status; disclosures of her character flaws make it considerably more believable that careful, ambitious, gentle Kate would suffer the antics of hedonistic, duplicitous Marc.
Seven Days’ restrictive time frame ensures it remains gripping throughout – revelations are divulged reliably up until the last page, and we are permitted little respite from Kate’s quandary: “I need to pull the plug one way or another. You stay or you go, either way, I can start living.” Our reprieve is ultimately reserved for the last page, when the truth accompanying Marc’s desertion is uncovered and Kate discloses her long-awaited decision. While the central enigma is technically resolved, however, Soames furnishes the conclusion with enough ambiguity to ensure sufficient intrigue remains: “Today, a week after you’ve returned, we have to turn away, continue to live with whatever diagnosis we have. We have to close it all up, keep going, for the sake of our recovery.”