Friday, 25 June 2010

Furst in a hot climate

I find myself on the horns of a dilemma.

My marvellous small local bookshop in Beckenham had a copy of Alan Furst's "Spies of the Balkans" in stock on day of release. I've read the first few pages, and it's clearly a Furst; there's something about his use of place and language that as many others have said, manage to convince the reader you're in 1940s Europe - I'd always thought that this was just smoke and mirrors convincing me as a Gen-Xer that he was convincing until I gave my mother a copy of "Night Soliders". Mum is going to be 81 this year, and lived through World War II, and even though she did so as a child, the fact that she thinks Alan Furst captures what the period was like works for me.

So where's the problem? I would appear to have a new, unread, Alan Furst in my possession; why am I debating whether I should start it now?

Before answering this, let's rewind briefly. Alan Furst was introduced to me by Salon Magazine (read on AvantGo on a Conpaq Ipaq) back in 2001. Prompted by this I picked up "The World at Night" and was captivated. This was a February, and I was commuting listening to Sara Ayers (very obscure I accept) and some of her songs such as "The Waiting Room" - the combination of Furst's brilliance, wintery rain battering against old slam-door South London rolling stock, and Ms Ayre's cold ambient music made for something magical. There's even something about the covers from his works then, which were, and still are, works of art.

This defines Furst. He talks of a world at night, where moral equivalency imposes a darkness on peoples' souls, and where stinging rain slants into the faces of doomed protagonists. He does this brilliantly, and as a reader in fitting surroundings you're physically propelled into his world.


It's a hot June in the UK. I'm about to go to India for a week. It's hot.

I've tried reading Furst in a warm climate before. I got "Blood of Victory" on day of release and treasured it, saving it for a long laconic holiday we'd scheduled for late September 2002 in Umbria. A bucolic quiet surrounding should have been perfect, but it wasn't. Leaving aside that Furst is best talking about cities, it didn't quite work when sitting beside a pool in Italy's late summer warmth. I loved it as a book, but it didn't worm itself into my soul as other Fursts have.

So. I have "Spies of the Balkans" in my hands. On Sunday I do the long multi-leg flight to Chennai for a week working with my development team, and will want many books as support (quod vide) for business hotel bound nights. 

It should be a no-brainer. 

I have a new Alan Furst to read. 

...It doesn't work.

Chennai in Southern India is hot. Rain or shine next week is going to be a very hot week. I'm going to crave moments of quiet when I can savour condensation on the side of a glass to try and cool me down. This isn't Furst terrain. Even although "Spies of the Balkans" is set in Greece, it starts on a rainy winter night in Salonika. This isn't material for a hot climate.

Alan Furst is being left at home.

I'm desperate to read "Spies of the Balkans". For all that I wish he'd return to the sprawling narratives of "Night Soldiers" and "Dark Star" anything he writes is still an immediate candidate for Desert Island Book. Somehow however I know I'm missing something when the environment isn't there. "Spies of the Balkans" is going to go onto the TBR shelf and I'm going to avoid reviews of it. It's going to stay at behind when I go to Chennai and wait for us to be reacquainted in the European autumn. 

Maybe I can swing a Eurostar run to Brussels in November. Whipping through Northern France with sleet stinging against the window is when you should read Alan Furst. He paints a magnificent picture of Europe before and during the fall of man; reading him deserves an appropriate backdrop.

It's late, and I'm writing on my small sitting room netbook. I may well revisit this entry and put in some imagery and hyperlink it so that I can really set this in context, but I liked writing this, and a blog should reflect freshness of thinking.  Goodnight.

1 comment:

  1. Yeah, save it for dark, wet, clammy, and closed and banal places. Sunny, hot and open is probably going to be a striking contrast to the story. Looking forward to this one, as well.