Serious Sweet by A.L. Kennedy – a beautiful, rich read of reality.
This is a powerful book. Not necessarily because of the story, because in many ways it is very simple. The setting is mundane, the action is minimal. The strength of this book comes in the word pictures it contains, the characters it portrays in all their humanity. Not many writers could pull half of this novel off; its realism is painful because it is so true. Kennedy uses a style which is partly modern, but also partly traditional. This is not a stream of consciousness novel, but there are points when the reader is confronted by the inner thoughts of the two main characters in such an intimate way that it reveals far more than such methods would do in less competent hands. This novel does so much to unsettle the reader, but it is a compulsive read.
This novel follows twenty four hours in the life of two people, Meg Williams and Jon Sigurdsson. Meg is a disturbed alcoholic, sober after much effort, understanding something of why she has sought comfort in drink. She is shown going from an appointment to work, café to walking around. She is waiting for a meeting, using or wasting time being around various points in London. Jon is a high ranking civil servant, seen as successful in managing crisis, understanding the negative side of political manoeuvres, but sees himself as a failure at life. He is seen at his ex wife’s flat, his office, and like Meg, in flash backs to childhood. They both meet people, sit in pubs and rooms, travelling in realisation of what is going on in their lives. Interspersed with this progress are short scenes, described people, on tube trains, buses around London. People behaving in unusual but mainly positive ways, finding joy in small games, children’s cleverness, attachment to pets. Some of these pictures are emotionally charged, others just speaking of the joy of life, touched with a little fear. Nothing dramatic happens; they are descriptions without climax, without context or explanation. They cover life in London, or wherever people are gathered. They contribute to the whole, the richness of this novel.
This is a book which frequently made me stop and think, despite the mundane subjects, because it was so deeply felt. Though I read it slowly, it took time to digest, cope with the richness of the writing. Like “Paradise”, one of Kennedy’s other novels which I reviewed for Shiny New Books https://shinynewbooks.co.uk/shiny-new-books-archive/issue-7-archive/reprints-issue-7/paradise-by-a-l-kennedy/ some time ago, this is difficult to read in some ways. It is also reassuring as a read that others notice what they are wearing, their surroundings, asking about the point of life. In a way it is a comfort read, a slice of life. Kennedy writes unnervingly well of daily life as it is lived; this book is full of insight and is to be recommended.
There is probably only a handful/ very small snowman’s worth of snow here now, and it all seems very far away! Still, I finished a few books, wrote a few posts, oh, and did some work as well! Here’s hoping that the weather with you is improving, and that you are enjoying some signs of spring!