Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Reading: Joshua Spassky by Gwendoline Riley

On Saturday morning, I picked up Joshua Spassky by Gwendoline Riley, thinking I might start it while I sipped my coffee.  Several hours later, I was finished.

But although the author's story had ended, my head was full of my own spinning reminiscences and reflections.  I should have taken the time to write them down, while they were fresh in my mind, but I feel sure they will come back.  Because Gwendoline Riley inspires me to write.  

Don't get me wrong - this book is not perfect in the way that Cold Water verged on perfection, in its sharp depiction of a rain-drenched, alcohol-soaked, indie-scene Manchester seen through the eyes of a young writer.  But in the same way, it immersed me in the strangely compulsive relationship of two characters from that after-hours culture which I was never quite a part of, back then. 


Joshua Spassky is no great literary hero.  Our young writer does not try to impress us with his looks or his wit or his manly qualities.  But she and he nevertheless arrange to meet, after an absence of years, in neutral territory in small-town America.  The place is not important.  Its very lack of associations provides the blank sheet of paper upon which their encounter will be recorded.  And what happens?  Nothing much.  They drink too much.  They have parallel conversations.  They fall out and they fall in love.

But the writing is so well-measured.  I can smell Joshua's skin.  I can hear his drawling voice.  I recognise the green twilight of their shabby hotel room, that bewildering haze of feelings that washes over each of them in turn, but seems destined to remain unspoken.

And in contrast to their drifting, unfocussed state of living-in-the-moment, there is the crackling observation of those down-to-earth characters who populate the everyday world around them.  People who are oblivious to any heights and depths of emotion as they simply get on with the business of the day to day.  People to whom love is:  "right there... all the time.  Like a saucer."  Whose bereavements are handled "by the Co-op".  Whose memories are marked by faded photographs and their stains of "neon blue oily fingerprints."

Gwendoline Riley's books are not for everyone.  You would be well within your rights to accuse her characters of wallowing in booze and self-pity.  Does it always rain in Manchester?  Does nobody keep normal daylight hours and hold down a regular job?  Isn't it time they all stopped living like students and calling themselves writers and musicians?

Ah, but if you can still remember those days when the nights went on forever and all that mattered was what was going on inside your own head... then maybe you should read a little.  And then pick up your pen and try to write a little. That's my plan anyway.


Linda C said...

Strange, you should bring this up now. I had been think I had a few good poems and was thinking of doing something with them. Then my husband was clearing out and unearthed lots more I had written many many years ago. They took me back, back to when Iit was always raining and we were sitting around in smoky coffe house or older apartments, usually at night with the light only from candles. People playing chess or plsying guitars and singing or else talking very seriously about our search for meaning. We were all writers or musicans or artists- some of us had day jobs in offices where we were in disguise all day and only at night did the trus "us" appear. Reading these poems - oh, the raw emotion, how did we survive? I even had one written after I was married with a child when I was obviously upset over something a local politician had done. How clever I was to write a poem about it.

Anyway, I will not just put these away. - I am going to do something with them,


beate said...

this reminds me of my berlin in the 90s. in my 20s it was all very exciting and adventurous. and I was in it!
But now, in the middle 40, it creeps me the thoughts of all the oblique existences ....
Your review has reminded me how right it was to move to the mountains. healthier :-)

Cameron VSJ said...


I have a quick question about your blog, would you mind emailing me when you get a chance?



Roobeedoo said...

Cameron - I do not have an email address for you. I found your site but cannot see an address there either.

acharmofmagpies said...

Your blog shows that you have a beautiful lyrical way with words, you should definitely write!