North & South - - Memoir -

Sarah Quigley’s The Con­duc­tor was a high point in fic­tion of re­cent years and the fol­low-up is a more than wor­thy suc­ces­sor. Af­ter the his­tor­i­cal reimag­in­ing of The Con­duc­tor, Quigley gives some other lit­er­ary mus­cles a work­out. This is writ­ing fu­elled by a vivid en­ergy. And more than a few puns.

As the novel opens, young and ex­tremely suc­cess­ful writer Bright is pre­par­ing to jump from the 20th floor of a build­ing. Be­fore he can do that, how­ever, he is ap­par­ently pushed. He sur­vives the fall.

Some sur­pris­ing an­tecedents come to mind as the story pro­gresses. The Bavar­ian spa, which feels like the dystopian com­mu­ni­ties of J.G. Bal­lard’s fic­tion, with a hint of Thomas Mann’s magic moun­tain. Beck­ett is men­tioned and echoed. There’s an ab­surd dis­cus­sion about the ori­gin of pro­tag­o­nist Gibby Lux’s name that made me think of Tom Sharpe.

Gibby’s par­ents’ names are Adam and Eve – the pair who fell when se­duced by the one who fell from the light. Lace – the third mem­ber of the cen­tral trio of char­ac­ters – was orig­i­nally called Grace. The theme of fall­ing be­gins with Bright’s rooftop plum­met and con­tin­ues through­out. The pieces are all there to be put to­gether, al­though the sui­cide club it­self is not con­vened un­til half­way through the book.

Bright, Gibby and Lace come to­gether at the spa, The Palace, which is run by a doc­tor called Ge­of­frey who in­sists on us­ing first names and refers to death as The Light. A love tri­an­gle, hi­lar­ity, tragedy and much more en­sue. For quite some time, the rel­e­vance of the ti­tle is un­clear, which makes it all the more shock­ing when we learn it.

Two di­gres­sive notes to end. The cover is aw­ful. It sug­gests a pas­toral ro­mance, and not a very good one, rather than the so­phis­ti­cated, gritty fic­tion that read­ers will be pleased to en­counter. And four cheers for the ab­sence of that blight of con­tem­po­rary fic­tion: ac­knowl­edg­ments. No one cares that the writer’s agent did their job or their friends be­haved like friends.

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