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.