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.”