Understated, subtle, yet precise. That is how I’d describe David Szalay’s novel, Spring. This book will resonate with anyone who’s ever been uncertain about where they stand in a relationship.
‘This presumably being the fact that he was in love with her. Or thought he was. Or said he was. Or said he thought he was…’
Meet James – a many times failed entrepreneur, and meet Katherine – an interim receptionist working at a luxury hotel, recently separated from her husband. It’s 2006 and they meet at a wedding, swap numbers and start seeing each other. Straight forward enough. Except the relationship that ensues never quite makes it off the ground, yet we follow them through the painful repetitiveness of a new relationship, a repetition that many reviewers have said is captured in a beautifully mundane precision.
Szalay is very observant of the little nuances, the tiny details that make you smile because they are unique yet universal. He writes with a precision that elevates the ordinary into something more profound, whatever that ‘something’ may be. James spends most of his time wondering if things are ok with him and Katherine, ‘On that question he is insatiable’. He’s highly attuned to every one of Katherine’s slight shifts in mood and she appears to treat him with an indifference that is down-right embarrassing at times, blowing hot and cold in what I found to be a completely unattractive self-absorbed manner. Yet Szalay’s characters are not two dimensional; there are all these layers of thought and reasoning and experience that makes it difficult to judge them outright (as much as you want to, damn it!)
We spend as much time observing their dates as we do witnessing their attempts to actually try and arrange them and this is where Szalay’s gift for dialogue really comes through, because we have all had these awkward phone conversations in our time.
You can’t help but wonder what the point of the whole thing is. Why bother?
The ending is hideously ambiguous, but the novel resonates more as a result. I never fully understood whether or not they actually did love one another. My instinct would be to say of course not, but then maybe this is what love is about in a city like London. You trudge on through and grasp at little pockets of companionship that bring you out of the vapidity, the crowded solitude. I don’t know…Maybe this also touches on that feeling a lot of people have in their late twenties/early thirties where you’re a little bit jaded and happy to settle into something rather than aimlessly try and reach for that elusive something else: ‘No more magnificence. Now he just wants to be okay.’
Gosh, this is depressing. But then, this is not chick lit, it’s real. No tint of rose. And if you’re able to look beyond the cyclical nature of their relationship (James calling, Katherine not picking up) the writing is effortless.
But this book is not without its flaws. There are characters brought into the storyline for what feels like fairly weak reasons. The frequency with which these characters enter the plot is inconsistent and the subplot of betting and race horses (James’s most recent entrepreneurial endeavour) seems completely unnecessary, adding very little to the book.
If you like stories that are character rather than plot based, you’ll really enjoy this. Whereas if you like your books to have a distinct narrative arc, I probably wouldn’t bother.
If you’ve read this, what did you think of Katherine? Was I the only one who really didn’t like her? And though I liked James did anyone else hope he would eventually develop a backbone? Do you think there was any kind of genuine love in this relationship as opposed to simply wanting to feel? Or is Katherine simply just not that into James?