Posts Tagged ‘David Szalay’

‘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+


‘Spring’ by David Szalay – A Would-Be Romance


Spring’ by David Szalay (2011) – 259 pages

David Szalay has a new novel, ‘Turbulence’, coming out in June, but I was so impressed with his previous collection of stories, ‘All That Man Is’, that I couldn’t wait and decided to read his novel from 2011, ‘Spring’, right now.

All of the stories in ‘All That Man Is’ centered around young men making or not making their way in this modern world, and I found each story engaging, insightful, and eloquent.

There are writers of historical fiction, romance, science fiction, and mystery, but there are few writers who can articulate this maddening modern world we now live in. David Szalay is one who can take on modern life today, and I value him for that.

‘Spring’ is about a would-be romance between a young man and a young woman, James and Katherine, in London, but outside factors like Katherine’s ex-lover Fraser keep getting in the way. James had made a fortune in the boom of the late nineties but has lost it in the bust, and now he’s working on a shady horse racing scheme with his pals in order to recoup a little of the money. Katherine works in a reception desk in a hotel where she earlier had met her ex, Fraser, who makes a living as a photographer taking pictures of celebrities on the sly.

In ‘Spring’, Szalay captures nearly every nuance of the interaction between James and Katherine from a nice outing in Morroco to Katherine’s indifference when she starts things back up with her old boyfriend. One time James calls Katherine and he can hear noises that makes him suspect there’s a man in her room. Sadly that reminded me of an episode in my own past.

I suppose ‘Spring’ could be described as an anti-romcom as James presses forward to get closer to Katherine but is met by her seeming lack of enthusiasm. ‘Spring’ is more realistic than a romance by capturing every twist and turn of this harrowing relationship or non-relationship between these two.

We also get the spurious results of the whole horse racing scheme which adds some light humor to this entertainment. Szalay captures what it must be like for young guys and gals to live in London now and how they get together or don’t get together.

England is quite far along in recognizing David Szalay as a perceptive writer, but the United States has not really discovered him yet. I will be waiting for ‘Turbulence’ to arrive in June.


Grade:    A-


‘All That Man Is’ by David Szalay – Fiction about Living as a Modern Man


‘All That Man Is’ by David Szalay   (2016)  –  358 pages



Somewhere I read that the men in ‘All That Man Is’ are a total washout.  That’s sad, because I identified real strongly with these guys.  Everything that David Szalay writes rings true from my own experience of guys up to and including “He tries a wank, but he is too drunk.”

‘All That Man Is’ is a rather pompous title for a decidedly un-pompous novel.   Let’s start with a quote:

“We all think we’re special — we’re all the fucking same.”

Many would not call this book a novel. There are nine separate stories about men scattered throughout Europe from Croatia to Geneva, from France to Cypress, from London to Cordoba, Spain, and so on. There is a lot of travelling whether by car, train, or airplane, and a frequent venue is a hotel room.  The stories are arranged from youngest to oldest by the age of the main protagonist, the youngest being seventeen and the oldest being in his seventies.  The stories do have a common theme which appears to be masculinity today, so I am willing to go along with calling ‘All That Man Is’ a novel.  Here we get many distinct angles on manhood at different times in life.

Despite having all the stories told from a male perspective, each story contains at least one woman who is central to the story.  In fact some of the women have the best lines.  In one story a young woman is reading the tarot cards for her boyfriend at a Belgian hotel stop on their drive to her home in Poland:

She said,  “I think these cards are suggesting that you should maybe stop thinking about your…thing all the time.”

He laughed, “My Thing!”


She put her finger on it.

“What it means,” she said, looking him in the eye, “is that your skirt-chasing days are over.”   

In this story the man is in his mid-twenties, and this is a fair statement.

Some of the early stories are quite raunchy.  However as the men age in these stories, their obsessions turn from sex first to their families, then to their own mortality.

 “It still seems incredible to him that he is actually going to die. That this is just going to stop. This. Him.” 

 Szalay writes from inside each of his main male characters’ heads, and we get a full account of how they see the world.  Some of the men are very successful and some are failures.  One was very successful early on only to see all his fortune collapse like a house of cards.  Each story here is entirely convincing to me in its understanding of and insight into the male psyche.

‘All That Man Is’ a well-written, original, and entirely perceptive novel about being a man in the various stages of adult life.


Grade:   A       


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