Rayner is a superbly gifted writer. In One Moment, One Morning, she follows three women--each faced with the sudden death of a loved one--in a tale that is breezy and charming but also typically shrewd and sad. Showcasing Raynerís low-key style, the first pages introduce her central characters, each serendipitously thrust together after a life-changing tragedy.
On the Brighton line to London
during the busy morning commute, Louís attention is grabbed by a man who unexpectedly and embarrassingly vomits while a woman--his wife--frantically attempts to wipe up the mess. As the man clutches his chest in pain, three carriages along, Karenís best friend, Anna, treats herself to a glossy magazine, blithely unaware of the pandemonium taking place ahead of her.
In a different sort of novel, this calamity would have dominated the proceedings, but almost at once something more subtle happens. Thereís a shared taxi ride, and in the midst of the drama, a new friendship is formed. As emotions collide and thoughts tangle in a buzz of self-interest and altruism, Simonís sudden death becomes a harbinger of change for Karen, Anna and Lou.
In the aftermath, Karen is left staring at Simonís body in the mortuary, mostly bewildered and numb, wondering how to tell her dear children, Molly and Luke. And Anna imagines a different life for herself without her handsome boyfriend, Steve, whose drunkenness causes his hatred to spiral outward, affecting all who come into his orbit.
This novel is filled with tender, layered moments. Lou, with her boyish face and cropped, gelled hair, seems at first reliable and stable. Her years of working as a councilor have honed her innate skills, a talent she uses when she becomes intimately connected to Anna and then Karen by their shared experience. Meanwhile, details involving the business of death are firmly recorded: "the arrangements, the people to be told, and the decisions that just have to be made."
Of course, time marches on. Lou must learn to be honest about her own sexuality with her firm-lipped, controlling, and morally tunnel-visioned mother. Anna has to accept what Steve is capable of and try to save her disintegrating domestic life.
With nothing to support her, Karen must learn how to cry and face the fear that she wonít be able to look after little Luke and Molly on her own.
The precious Sussex landscape rolls by, its green fields and rolling downs postcard-perfect while the aching loneliness of a newly widowed woman echoes throughout. Brighton is gorgeously conveyed: the bags of rubbish, the scattered debris at the end of the Pier, the ďmess the scruffiness,Ē the itinerant and gay population--all part of the Cityís rich but well-worn tapestry.
In a tale that intensifies the sense of our own mortality, only through Karenís bereavement do Anna and Lou learn to be thankful for small blessings.
What saves this story from being depressing is its enduring theme: the power of love to conquer any tragedy, no matter how insurmountable it may appear.