LEILA BLOCH reviews James Salter's latest novel

The details of love

LEILA BLOCH reviews James Salter's latest novel

BY LEILA BLOCH

Love affairs that transpire in the euphoria of post-war are perceived to be some of the most meaningful, desperate and celebratory. At the core of All That Is, rests some of the greatest romances — between lovers and in passing moments.

Throughout his novel, PEN/Faulkner winner James Salter proves that the romantic is not limited to a singular event or person. His vignettes of everyday life capture a post-World War Two society with precision and flair. No waiter, writer, friend or enemy is missed by his pen.  Not one depiction of a bank teller nor figure of a waitress goes unnoticed. Characters are treated with as much detail and care as a description of a broken marriage or illness.

From the moment the leading character Bowman arrives back after war to begin a career in publishing, we are absorbed in the all-consuming comings and goings of everyday life — from empty bars and crowded rooms, to words exchanged in chance encounters and during secret pillow talk.

As Fitzgerald once said, “He was simultaneously enchanted and repelled by the inexhaustible variety of life.” Some of Salter’s literary dinner scenes are reminiscent of Paris in the early twenties. The presence of artistic and literary figures such as Pound, Mozart, Shelley, Cavafy and Sartre haunt the pages both casually and with intimate familiarity. Tolstoy’s Childhood, Boyhood and Youth is mentioned, the structure loosely mirrored as Bowman ages through the novel. Comparable to Hemmingway’s A Moveable Feast, Salter’s prose combines the nuances of everyday exploration with self-reflection, underscored by an appreciation for the solitary found in Phillip Roth’s later works.

While centred on America, the momentum that comes with the possibility of travel is ever-present. The narrative transports us to many countries. He navigates the turbulent post-war years with hope and a sense of possibility. He approaches life with a resilient acceptance of the collapse and restoration of human experience and relationships. While remaining loyal to his interests in woman and writing, Bowman finds ways to regenerate his sense of self.

While the romances are grandiose and sweeping, the language is evocative, restrained and easy to follow. This is a novel to be enjoyed. The reader can slip in and out at various moments. The novel has a historical backdrop of war which may shape the context of the characters lives but it does not distract from the timeless traditions of human exchanges and the relentless desire to document, in writing, experiences as it happens.

All That Is is published by Picador, R225, and is one of AERODROME’s WinterReads.

GIVEAWAY: Win one of two copies of All That Is by James Salter. To enter, email competition(at)aerodrome.co.za, with the book’s title in the subject line. In the body of the email please include your full name, contact number and physical address (including area code). Only readers resident in South Africa are eligible. Entries close on 30 August 2013.

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