CW: racism, police violence, minor character death (not by cop)
Oddly enough, this book kept bringing to mind the movie “500 Days of Summer,” not that I’ve seen it more than the once when it first came out. Something about two people dancing around one another and getting in their own ways? Even though, to be clear, the message of the film is clearly that Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s character brings his misery upon himself since he asks what Summer wants and then gets sad when she proceeds to…pursue exactly that.
So that aside, no wonder this is such a well-reviewed book. It’s beautiful and sparse and realistic, for all that it’s written in the second person throughout, which is one of my least favorite literary gimmicks (even Harrow the Ninth I only forgave for utilizing it in service of
The A Twist). The plot isn’t that complex–two young people meet in South East London, and then proceed to become friends and orbit around one another for all the usual reasons that people do so–but on that skeleton Nelson weaves rather poetic descriptions of anxiety/grief, Blackness in London (a whole new can of terrible to learn about, excellent), love, joy, community. I’m probably going to cop out and do the “quotes from the book to talk about it” route again.
To give desire a voice is to give it a body through which to breathe and live. It is to admit and submit to something which is on the outer limits of your understanding.
Honestly I don’t really agree here–most of the time I feel like covert desire has a life of its own and grows, while expressed desire has form and therefore a limit–but this quote reminds me of how the unnamed narrator frequently repeats phrases while describing himself and situations. There’s this tendency to never have a word or phrase repeat too often in a novel, lest you seem sloppy or like you had a poor copy editor, but in real life it’s really the exact opposite.
Think about how you associate certain phrases with people (“just to be clear” is a favorite in the workplace and “yeah yeah yeah” marks me as originating from a specific region of the East Coast) or how you get stuck describing an issue the same way with friends (“it’s like…ugh I keep saying it again and again, but they weren’t listening”) . It’s slightly separate from repeated language used for obvious themes (water, waves, the sea)–it’s the narrator calling himself “loose and limber and soft” thrice while describing a breakdown, and it hammers home the point that he’s not going to be crafting any particularly nuanced thoughts.
just one more:
You follow each other around the supermarket, searching for snacks you know won’t sate your hunger. Down an escalator, exchanging nothings as you avoid the impending split
I just like that one, the universality and longing of it! Universality is a 50/50 game with this novel, with the second person narration both making you feel like you’re meant to imagine yourself in the narrator’s shoes but the remove with which he walks through life (unwilling to be seen, uncomfortable/unsafe/having to constantly consider his Black body) prevents you (and, of course, her) from being able to fully understand. It’s a limited second person, I suppose, not an omniscient one.