‘Turbulence’ by David Szalay – A Whirlwind Trip Around the World

 

‘Turbulence’ by David Szalay   (2019) – 145 pages

‘Turbulence’ is a quick trip around the world in twelve separate airplane flights.

Turbulence – irregular atmospheric motion especially when characterized by up-and-down currents; violent disorder or commotion

This novel depicts not the turbulence in the air but instead the turbulence in people’s lives.

Thus we have twelve very short stories about 12 very diverse people of many different nationalities and occupations – pilot, co-pilot, writer, elderly mother, etc. – as they travel from city to city around the world. Thus we travel from London to Madrid to Dakar to Sao Paulo to Toronto to Seattle to Hong Kong to Saigon to Bangkok to Delhi to Kochi to Doha to Budapest to London.

Along the way we deal with people who are avoiding close members of their own family, unfaithfulness, severe illness, and other kinds of unrest. The stories are only minimally connected.

This is perhaps a clever idea for a novel, but it did not work this time. There are too many characters with not enough development of the characters and not enough plot. We barely get to know these people before we are off to the next flight and an entirely different set of people. There is little description of the landscape or atmosphere in all these diverse cities except for the airports which all tend to be about the same.

The stories are too sketchy and too diffuse to have much of an impact. All Szalay does is show the turbulence in these characters’ lives. He makes no attempt to show how each character handles the turbulence. He is in too much of a hurry to move on to the next character, and that was unsatisfying for this reader. The stories that make up ‘Turbulence’ just do not go deep enough into these characters’ lives.

Previously I had been extremely impressed with ‘All That Man Is’ which was also written by David Szalay and I considered it one of the very best novels I read in 2016. That novel was also a collection of only slightly connected stories of people on the move, in that case men traveling around Europe. However the stories in ‘All That Man Is’ were much more fully developed and entirely convincing in their understanding and insight into the male psyche.

‘Turbulence’ is a sketchy disappointment.

 

Grade:    C+

 

5 responses to this post.

  1. A pity. Give me a good novel any day, rather than short stories!

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    • Hi Lisa,
      Don’t you even like the stories of Alice Munro or John Cheever? I am definitely on the middle ground in the novel vs short story debate.

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      • #Blush I’ve never read either of them. There are a few short stories including some collections that I’ve read (most recently Patrick White) and you can find them under FORM/short story in my categories but I’d always much rather read a novel. (Though, I don’t think there should be a debate about it, I think people should read what they like, enjoy it, and leave other people alone to enjoy what they like without crusading about it.) (Not accusing you of that, I hasten to say, thinking of someone else entirely).

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        • I totally agree. I read what I want when I want to read it and expect others to do the same.

          I have read Patrick White’s stories which were collected in, I believe, ‘The Cockatoos’, and they were wonderful like most everything else by Patrick White.

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          • That’s another one I need to get… for some off reason they often turn up in 2nd-hand bookshops in country towns. I could probably get it at Clunes BookTown but that has become so big now, I haven’t been for a couple of years.

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