A Masterpiece of Science Fiction – “Days” by James Lovegrove

One of the most exciting parts about reading books is the ever-present possibility that you’ll encounter a book that hits you at just the right time, or one that catapults itself onto your all-time favorite lists. For me, that rare moment when both occurred with the same book over the Christmas season with James Lovegrove’s Days.

The premise of Days is pretty simple. It is centered around the world’s first (and foremost–perhaps?) gigastore, conveniently named “Days” after its founder’s last name. A gigastore, as the name implies, is a massive shopping complex in which you can buy anything you can imagine. The prestige of shopping at this store is nearly boundless. It is clear that it takes not just a credit check, but years of effort to amass enough of a stockpile of unspent wealth to assure the Days ownership one is worthy of stepping foot through the doors. The story follows several characters: the Day brothers, inheritors of their father’s fortune and–importantly–his expectations. There’s also Frank Hubble, an employee who is planning to quit after his last day at, er, Days. Then, there are the Trivetts. Linda and Gordon have spent much of their adulthood scrounging together the money to finally qualify for their Silver Days card–the lowest level offered, but it gets them through the doors. As readers, we follow these characters as they go through a day at the gigastore.

The characters quickly grab the reader’s interest. Frank’s attempt to sort out his feelings about his job makes him imminently relatable. The Trivetts have a sort of homely, everyday person feel that it is difficult not to hope they get all that they wish for. The Day brothers are so strangely out of touch that it makes each chapter featuring them a must read. There are other characters along the way, and Lovegrove makes them all seem real as well. They’re all trapped, however–they’re trapped in a nightmare of consumerism and rampant, unchecked capitalism. I’ll talk more about this in the section I’ve marked off for spoilers below, but Lovegrove has inventively thought of what it might look like if we just let consumerism and capitalism take over. It’s a microcosm of hell, frankly. The clever turns of phrase Lovegrove scatters throughout the novel bring this home. For example, in the gigastore, they will have random sales that only last 5 minutes. The first of these sales we encounter is a sale in the Dolls department, and all over the store, people who had no interest whatsoever in buying a doll are attracted to the department. After all, what good is it to miss out on an opportunity to save money!?

The best part of the book is the way Lovegrove layers meaning throughout seemingly every character tree and even each action they take. The most obvious is the constant intonation of the number 7. Each chapter starts with a note about something that happens in a 7, the obvious analogy of days of the week to the name of the gigastore, there’s the more obvious push by the founder of Days to name his 7 sons after the 7 days of the week and bribe doctors to ensure they are born on their eponymous days, and there are many, many more occurrences of this as well. But the number 7 doesn’t take over the plot or dominate the novel in any way. It’s another layer to peel away and think about its meaning.

(This Paragraph will have SPOILERS for themes and major plot points in the book.) Beyond that, it’s clear there is much deeper meaning throughout the book. Frank’s fascination with the menagerie–a kind of zoo for sale of creatures in the center of the store–gets woven into the ending sequences in which he is saved by a white tiger that he’d made eye contact with earlier. Frank’s attempt to escape Days by fleeing into true anonymity may be The ritualistic, brutal murder of Sunny–the youngest brother who is named after Sunday–by his brothers surely has depths of meaning. Is it Lovegrove pointing out the natural self-consumption and destruction that follows naturally from unchecked consumerism and capitalism in which any evil can be justified by the almighty concept of profit? Or is it an assault on religion (Sunday being a day of worship for Christians) from the realm of mammon? Lovegrove hints at the latter as a possibility throughout, as it is made extremely clear that for the Days family, the only religion is power, and its rituals are profits. Indeed, a whole exploration of the rites of consumerism to be found in the novel is possible. The Trivetts themselves serve as a study in how consumerism means self-consumption. Gordon is hesitant about the worship of mammon, seeing it as pointless to spend on things one doesn’t want or need simply because they’re on sale. But he is sucked into the consumerism nonetheless in ways he doesn’t expect. He ends up saving his wife, Linda, from a fight over Third World Instruments (there’s a lightning sale there–why wouldn’t you fight other people for the products?). It seems to impact her to the point where she gains trust in him she’d never had before, but that is ultimately undermined at the end of the book when she secretly decides to work to get into another gigastore once their Days membership is revoked.

The power of the novel is found in subtleties. It’s a slow burn, but as someone reading it as consumerism peaks in the United States (Christmas season and all the spending–along with the emphasis on the almighty sale), it was a powerful critique and even a reminder about what’s actually important. It’s a warning as much as it is a novel.

Days is a novel that I will never forget. Its incisive comments about rampant consumerism, its clever humor, its catching characters, and its depth of meaning are each features that, on their own, could capture my imagination for some time after reading it. Combined, it turns into one of the best science fiction novels I’ve ever read.

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