Spring – David Szalay

My calendar tells me I should be editing, but hey. I recently read ‘Spring’ by David Szalay which thirty-somethings will apparently ‘lap up’, according to Emma Hagestadt at The Independent.

What I liked about the novel was the sense of, oh, here’s someone writing the way they want to write. It’s for Vintage, so you know, it’s allowed to wander off into nice description. And I’m a fan of that stuff.

London light in the scuffed, keyed windows of a Piccadilly-line train from Heathrow. London light on the open spaces it hurries past, on the passing spokes of perpendicular suburban streets, on playing fields seen through a perimeter line of faint-shadowed trees. The train stops in outlying stations. Then it enters the howl of the tunnel and there is no more London light until he finds it later on the hotels and plane trees of Russell Square.

So yeah, it’s pretty. There’s a number of lovely observations that satisfy that sense of malnutrition from the too-stark fiction that litters the bookshelves. It’s odd too in that it’s purely about the opening of a relationship, and all the weirdness that this can bring. The uncertainty, the attempt to come together. Whether it works or not seems as random as an odd-ball bounce in tennis, or a wonky trolley down Tesco. Or Waitrose. I imagine this dude shops in Waitrose.

Anyway. I like this description and this ‘forensic’ focus; I very much like the way Szalay writes. I was upset by the appearance of exclamation marks in the narrative – is this ever necessary?!?!! (sorry). Upset too by the switch of POV to random jockey-trainer character. It doesn’t do these changes with enough confidence, or subtlety, for them to feel authentic. Some of them are in-chapter odd, though Katherine’s POV is written really well. Her emotions are more available, more understandable. The discrepancy between the Katherine that James sees and the real interior Katherine is really intriguing and really well done.

The subplot, something about horses, I glossed over. It was almost as if someone, maybe the writer, possibly the editor, I don’t know, said You can’t just write a novel about romance (!!!!!) So he bunged a horse in it. (If you skip these moments, it’s better).

I felt quite proud of the ending, though obviously I had nothing to do with it. But then I wondered whether it was one of those fashionable non-neat endings. But then I thought, you know, I feel a bit like a brief affair has just fizzled out. I’ve been jilted in a similar way. 

This book is a little oddity, curious, with lots of moments of beauty and an interesting and odd detachment too (evocative of the relationship) but which also keeps me from fully engaging. I want to embrace it, but I pat it on the head instead. And yet it sits in my head, and I keep turning it over; Why don’t you love me? I’ll think about this book for a bit, but not forever.

Right, am off to spit on one of mine and see if I can make it shine.




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