Literary reviews by Tim Love.
Warning: Rather than reviews, these are often notes in preparation for reviews that were never finished, or pleas for help with understanding pieces. See Litref Reviews - a rationale for details.

Saturday, 28 February 2015

"All That Is" by James Salter (Picador, 2014)

The language is sometimes vague - "The ship was moving smoothly with faint sound" (p.1) and sometimes lively - "the men were slaughtered in enemy fire dense as bees, the horror of the beaches, swollen bodies lolling in the surf, the nation's sons, some of them beautiful" (p.1)

On p.18 we read that Bowman enters Harvard. Straight away we're given a page about Malcolm Pearson, his roommate, and his subsequent 20 years or so. Such abandoned forays into the future are common. Fortunately, the author manages to describe parties, cities, and people with a few brushstrokes. Women have some of the best lines - "Look, that simply isn't done. You have to earn the right to betray an important writer" (p.312). Bowman has significant moments in London and Paris. At the end he plans another in Venice. I found the betrayal of him by Christine unconvincing. The rest was believable. There are poetic bursts -

  • "There was a time, usually late in August, when summer struck the trees with dazzling power and they were rich with leaves but then became, suddenly one day, strangely still, as if in expectation and at that moment aware. They knew. Everything knew, the beetles, the frogs, the crows solemnly walking across the lawn. The sun was at its zenith and embraced the world, but it was ending, all that one loved was at risk" (p.32)
  • "The emptiness of things rose like the sound of a choir making the sky bluer and more vast" (p.198)
  • "They made love simply, straightforwardly - she saw the ceiling, he the sheets, like schoolchildren. There was no sound but the float of traffic distant and below. There was not even that. The silence was everywhere and he came like a drinking horse. He lay for a long time on top of her, dreaming, exhausted. She had not made love for more than a year, and she lay dreaming too, and then asleep.
    They woke to the fresh light of the world
    " (p.230)

Other reviews

  • James Lasdun (Guardian) (Much more interesting and impressive is the richness of the social chronicling. The overarching story is Bowman's, but the book has a wonderfully generous way with point of view, slipping fluidly from Bowman's angle to that of innumerable secondary and tertiary characters... He's a little too loftily impassive, finally, and perhaps a little too interested in creating crystalline verbal beauty, to compel the word "great", at least without strong reservations. But he is amazingly good.)
  • David Annand (Telegraph) (Its structure is like that of memory: associative, tangential, unpatterned. )
  • James Meek (London Review of Books)
  • Malcolm Jones (New York Times)
  • Eric Weinberger (Spectator)
  • Hannah McGill(Scotsman) (this book is as unfocused and pretentious in its style as it is grossly unevolved in its thinking)
  • John Freeman (Boston Globe) (no one in American letters moves a story along through dialogue as naturally as he does. One moment we’re in Bowman’s head, the next in his lover’s, and at the start of a new chapter we’re briefly in the mind of someone entirely new. It is precisely this skill at dilation, though, that leads “All That Is” to be so disappointing)

No comments:

Post a Comment