"Fresh Air & Empty Streets" Oliver Cable
Fifteen years after Alexander left his wife and young child to pursue the life of an artist in Paris, his son Felix is on his doorstep, looking for answers. On a journey through smoky jazz bars, artists’ studios and along the banks of the Seine, Felix meets the father he never knew, and in doing so, comes to question some lifelong assumptions.
This is a novella and at 140 pages long, a very easy quick read. The brevity offered by the form of a novella is fitting for the style of Cable's writing as the story focuses on a particular event in a short space of time. The prose ebbs and flows in a way that matches the meandering of the Seine as Felix ponders, muses, explores and questions his relationship with his father amongst other things.
Cable's prose is distinctive and echoes the patterns and conventions of much more established writers who focus on moments in time, delving deeper into a character rather than rushing along with a plot. He clearly has a gift for description and observation. I liked the use of personification with "the clock shuffled along to its arranged meeting time," and then his detail about Felix: "His hair stood up in unruly clumps, shooting off in every which way in a desperate attempt to leave the wasteland that was his body......his skin resembled Arctic snow in the sun."
When Felix meets his father, Cable cleverly captures the similarities between the two men who have had so little contact.
"In that split second before any of them opened their mouths, Felix saw his shaggy brown hair, his dark eyebrows and his height back in the man in front of him."
The references to Paris are used not just to place the reader securely in the setting of the action, but also to create atmosphere. The church of Sacre-Coeur is used several times to conjure strong images of the city. In this story the location is as much of a character as Felix and Alexander.
This is Cable's debut and although it is polished, there were a few sentences that still felt a little clunky and occasionally Cable fell back on a cliche which stood out against the rest of his carefully considered language. However, this is his first book and I'm sure Cable will develop with everything he continues to publish.
It is easy to read the book in one sitting. There are no chapters and only "pauses" between paragraphs and within the narrative flow. It didn't feel necessary to break away from reading as I think the atmosphere of the novel carries you along in a slightly dreamlike state.
I don't want to say too much else as it is a short novel and really needs little explanation. If you enjoy a poetic style of writing, overflowing with description and imagery, a coming of age style voice and some interesting observations about the bigger issues and ideas in life, then you will enjoy this book. I would categorise it as literary fiction.
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