Search Loading suggestions...

The Coming Bad Days

UK Publisher: Daunt Books

‘The truth is that sometimes we just want the worst to happen.’

A woman leaves the man she lives with and moves to a low stone cottage in a university town. She joins an academic department and, high up in her office on the thirteenth floor, begins a research project on the poet Paul Celan. She knows nothing of Celan, still less of her new neighbours or colleagues.

She is in self-imposed exile, hoping to find dignity in her loneliness. Like everywhere, the abiding feeling in the city is one of paranoia. The weather is deteriorating, the ordinary lives of women are in peril, and an unexplained curfew has been imposed.

But then she meets Clara, a woman who is her exact opposite: decisive, productive and assured. As their friendship grows in intimacy Clara suggests another way of living – until an act of violence threatens to sever everything between them.

Reminiscent of Thomas Bernhard, Rachel Cusk and Gwendoline Riley, The Coming Bad Days is a penetrating portrait of feminine vulnerability and cruelty. It announces the arrival of a startling new voice in fiction: intelligent, brutal, sure, and devastatingly funny.


‘Sarah Bernstein’s debut novel, The Coming Bad Days…takes distance as its central concern, using the form of fiction to think about how we live with other people’s utter unknowability…There is a Cuskian severity…But there is also something beautiful in the novel’s willingness to be in a space of ambiguity, its search for “[a] fragile consensus … Something about refusal, about changing language, ordering anew, possibility. I groped for the thought.”…The Coming Bad Days fine-tunes the reader into more sensitive ways of being in the world; it identifies the signals of truth emitted from that hard-to-locate source, the place where we understand everything we can’t admit to ourselves.’ – Lauren Elkin, The Guardian

‘A startling and inventive piece of work about the absurdity and difficulty of being alive….What marks this debut out is the quality of the writing, a searing style that vividly portrays the experiences of a troubled woman. The clinical voice of the unnamed narrator is balanced with stylish prose – lucid, propulsive writing that is exquisitely crafted. Although this book deals with 21st-century preoccupations, the level of craft and formal tone hark to an earlier era. There is a Jamesian quality to the prose.’ – Irish Times

‘Deeply moving. Sarah Bernstein manages to combine cool, perfectly weighted prose with an extraordinary emotional sensibility. Every sentence is polished and replete.’ – Fiona Mozley

‘Sinewy and seductive. A beautiful, mysterious, existential shudder of a book, and a map of disorientation.’ – Olivia Sudjic