It’s fitting that the cover image of “One Moment, One Morning,’’ the third novel from British author Sarah Rayner, is five teacups stacked on a saucer in the rain, because that’s exactly what the book calls to mind - an intimate chat among girlfriends over a cup of tea on a dreary day.
The novel tells the story of three women bound by tragedy, after the husband of one suffers a massive fatal heart attack on board a morning commuter train to London. The incident causes each of the central characters to reevaluate her own life and come to terms with human fragility, both physical and emotional.
Rayner’s spot-on portrayal of the stages of grieving allows readers to experience the emotional roller coaster of loss right along with the three protagonists. There’s Karen, who’s struggling with losing her husband and trying to stay strong for their two young children; Lou, a lesbian who feels uncomfortable being open about her sexuality with her family and co-workers; and Anna, a successful professional whose home life is often thrown into disarray by her alcoholic boyfriend (this story line is less melodramatic than it sounds). The secondary characters are equally interesting, but it’s the three women, and their relationships with each other, that anchor the novel. Tellingly, Rayner has stuck with this main trio for her next book, “The Two Week Wait,’’ slated for sale in the United Kingdom in February.
ONE MOMENT, ONE MORNING
But while “One Moment, One Morning’’ - already a bestseller in the United Kingdom, where it was released in 2010 - may find a natural audience with female readers, it exudes a quiet complexity, resisting categorization as chick lit. And contrary to what the unfortunately clichéd, Lifetime movie-esque title might lead readers to believe, Rayner’s writing, though heartbreaking at times, never feels histrionic or sappy.
Though the novel spans only a week’s time, sectioned by day and time, Rayner’s use of flashbacks and subtle yet revealing details offers a textured sense of each woman’s personality and invites investment practically from page one, making for a gripping read. It’s likely only a matter of time before a film adaptation is in the works.
At the same time, Rayner explores the cruel truth that, even as one person’s world collapses, the world around him or her carries on. She touches on workplace politics through Anna and Lou in particular, who prefer to keep their personal and professional lives separate. We’re told of Anna that “[i]f her colleagues think she has been off sick, it is fine by her. [I]t makes it easier. If someone is too kind, she might cry again.’’ Rayner also captures the monotony of public transportation, exploring the unseen or unrealized connections between commuters on a busy train. (A minor twist along this theme comes as a surprise early on in the book.)
The book is rife with local color, and although American readers may not be familiar with many of the locales and customs Rayner mentions, the references are not alienating.
“One Moment, One Morning’’ is essentially a dissection of the moments, be they life-altering or fleeting, that both define individuals and bind them to others. Rayner not only does a superb job of exploring this theme, but does so through three women who are so relatable and well-defined that it’s a shame to part with them on the final page.
Liz Raftery, a freelance writer based in New York, can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.