In The Coming Bad Days, Sarah Bernstein’s debut novel, the world is closing in. The unnamed narrator, a young academic, reads about people found dead. Helicopters rattle low over buildings; two girls go missing; a curfew is imposed. She ditches her long-term partner and travels to an unnamed town to take up a new teaching post. She is convinced that journeys like hers, ‘taken alone, taken by women, end in self-annihilation’.
The narrator avoids social contact, until unexplained notes, containing apparently random references to Hölderlin and Popeye, are slipped beneath her office door. Around this time, she meets fellow academic Clara, who has a boldness the narrator lacks and moves uninvited in and out of the narrator’s home several times.
‘What’s going to happen?’ asks Bernstein’s narrator, repeatedly. The answer: not much. What initially feels like heavy-handed foreshadowing becomes a running joke. An ‘ethic of detachment’ is adopted by the narrator when confronted by what she views as an ever-worsening world – and her narrative becomes increasingly abstract, unwieldy and