Wednesday, 1 April 2015

Review - David Szalay: "London and the South East" (2008)

I confess I'd never heard of David Szalay when this novel, with its commonplace-yet-odd title and its cover (not the one on the Goodreads page) resembling some recurring nightmare of Martin Parr's jumped out at me in my local library. I'm very glad it did. It's a painfully funny, hilariously true account of disappointed, self-deluding, alcoholic male middle-age. Determinedly downbeat, it's nevertheless very sharply observed, and some of the description shimmers, in a determinedly downbeat sort of way. Its subject - a man behaving badly and trying desperately to maintain his wilful lack of self-awareness in the matter - is reminiscent of Kingsley Amis at his best, and it contains at least one description of a hangover as fine as any in "Lucky Jim" or the rest of that writer's output. Unlike Amis, there's no misogyny - in fact, Szalay's characters, male and female, are all treated with a kind of rough compassion, regardless of their very obvious faults. A rare debut, one that coaxes engagement, horrible fascination, and compulsive readability out of ostensibly unpromising, unsympathetic raw material.

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