Novella a Day in May 2020 #16

Speedboat – Renata Adler (1971) 170 pages

Speedboat is only a novel (or novella) in the loosest sense of the word. There’s no plot, no sense of linear time, no developing characterisation. Rather it is a series of observations, scenes, notes and stories that build a picture of late twentieth century life for a young female journalist living primarily in New York.

Jen Fain can be silly, shallow, detached; she is also insightful, witty, caring. She observes her life and the people in it with wry humour. There is the day she sees two rats:

“the second rat, of course, may have been the first rat farther up town, in which case I am being followed or the rat keeps the same rounds and hours I do. I think sanity, however, is the most profound moral option of our time.”

Her attitude to her profession:

“That ‘writer’s write’ is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.”

Her young friends and their self-defeating endeavours:

“In the bar of his father’s hotel, with the leather chairs that give one the feeling of sitting in a wallet, Dommy has introduced a new drink, Last Mango in Paris. A steep decline.”

Amongst silly cocktail puns there is also a sense of a serious young woman, trying to work out the world amongst a hectic, intellectual life that offers few certainties:

“When I wonder what it is that we are doing – in this brownstone, on this block, with this paper – the truth is probably that we are fighting for our lives.”

At the moment I’m finding it hard to concentrate on reading and I wondered if I could sustain reading a plotless novel, but I found the humour and sharp observations of Adler’s writing pulled me along.

Speedboat reminded me a bit of Flights by Olga Tokarczuk so if you enjoyed the fractured, plotless style of that, you might enjoy this.

“Hardly anyone about whom I deeply care about at all resembles anyone else I have ever met, or heard of, or read about in literature.”

25 thoughts on “Novella a Day in May 2020 #16

  1. I posted on this some time ago. I struggled to get into her method, then loved it. It’s tempting to quote almost at random – you’ve chosen some good ones. Every paragraph, every sentence just about, is brimming with intelligence and wit. And there is a sort of plot, deep down. I puzzled for a while about the title, and came up with a not very compelling answer…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m so you enjoyed this. The quality of the writing really elevates it to a higher level. I’m not normally a fan of these fragmentary novellas, but this definitely proved to be the exception to the rule.

    I wondered if the book was partly a reflection of the sense of unease in the US at the time, politically and culturally. Your quote about fitting for our lives reminded me of it. (Like Simon, I wrote about it a few years ago, but please don’t feel under any obligation to visit!)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Although I LOVE that cover, I’ll avoid this one – my life feels fractured and plotless enough without reading about similar. I have wondered how long this feeling of being ‘removed’ from everything (because of lockdown) will endure, even after we are encouraged to ‘re-enter’ the world (we are still essentially in lockdown in Melbourne, although this week you are allowed up to five people in your home – unfortunately some have taken the ‘five people’ guildeline to mean ‘host a dinner party’, so awaiting further outbreaks…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know what you mean Kate, I did wonder if I’d struggle to read it at the moment. The writing pulled me along but generally I think I’m more of a plot-driven reader right now.

      I saw clips of Melbourne coffee shops reopening in the news and thought of you!

      I also wonder what the psychological fall out will be. I think everyone will get overexcited at first and then we’ll be wandering round a bit lost. I’m not a pessimist, I just think we’re going to take time to come to terms with it all.

      Having said that – 5 whole other people, hooray! Enjoy your dinner party!


  4. This is on my TBR and I agree, I have to be in a particular mood to connect with this kind of fragmentary writing. But, sometimes, it’s just exactly what I’m craving. The last quotation made me smile!

    Liked by 1 person

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