“He is on the fringes, camouflaged within the crowd. To him, the streets are a theatre, with an ever-more complex cast and plot. The flâneur is the only observing audience member of this play. Maybe there are other flâneurs, at different vantage points, but what they witness would be a completely different work. As the characters of his theatre present themselves only randomly, in flashes, the flâneur is our only possible protagonist, both sociologist and anthropologist, alienated and immersed in his city.”
Two Sketches of Disjointed Happiness, by Simon Kinch, explores a young American man’s ennui as he reaches the end of a three month long tour of Europe. When the story opens he faces a choice – return to his parental home in America as planned or remain where he is. Sitting on a bench in a coastal town between Spain and France he has received a text message from his girlfriend – she is breaking up with him. His reaction is to throw his phone into the sea and abandon plans to visit Paris and then London before flying home as his ticket and visa demands. Instead he returns south, to a hostel in the small Spanish town of Sevilla.
The protagonist, Granville, feels cut adrift. He accepts the easy friendships offered by the other young people he encounters. Knowing that his money is not limitless he finds himself a small job. He observes the lives others lead from his vantage points in cafes and as he walks the streets. He eavesdrops on conversations. Although seeking company, he shies away from attempts by others to get to know him better.
Had he returned to America Granville would also have found a small job to tide him over until he rejoined the road his life would now travel. In dual narratives the reader is offered snapshots of his day to day life in Sevilla and as it would have been in Madison, USA.
The melancholy undertones of the narrative pervade each small choice Granville makes. He is drifting but cannot find a good reason to change this way of living. He misses his girlfriend yet rejects the advances of others if they try to get close. He becomes more interested in the interactions of strangers than in improving his own.
Although told in the first person there is an air of detachment, a recognition that Granville is not behaving in a manner that can be sustained. In Sevilla he can neither speak nor read Spanish yet puts off the need to make longer term decisions. By throwing away his phone he has cut contact with those from home. He recognises that his parents will be worried yet still continues as he is. When crisis points are reached his reactions revolve around avoidance.
Granville struggles with his girlfriend’s rejection, as if not accepting her decision makes it less real. He changes location rather than changing himself. He seeks a dream without the drive to achieve. He is aware yet will not act constructively.
Granville’s drifting is only possible due to his position of privilege, yet the writing engendered a degree of sympathy. The parallel stories provide a vehicle for portraying much that is difficult to express. There have been many classic stories written of men attempting to find their place in a world that rewards behaviour they rail against. This contemporary offering stands with the best.
My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Salt.