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by David Szalay

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The U.S. debut of leading U.K. author David Szalay, named one of The Daily Telegraph's twenty best British novelists under forty

James is a man with a checkered past--sporadic entrepreneur, one-time film producer, almost a dot-com millionaire--now alone in a flat in Bloomsbury, running a shady horse-racing-tips operation. Katherine is a manager at a

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The U.S. debut of leading U.K. author David Szalay, named one of The Daily Telegraph's twenty best British novelists under forty

James is a man with a checkered past--sporadic entrepreneur, one-time film producer, almost a dot-com millionaire--now alone in a flat in Bloomsbury, running a shady horse-racing-tips operation. Katherine is a manager at a luxury hotel, a job she'd intended to leave years ago, and is separated from her husband. The novel unfolds in 2006, at the end of the money-for-nothing years, as a chance meeting leads to an awkward tryst and James tries to make sense of a relationship where "no" means "maybe" and a "yes" can never be taken for granted.

David Szalay builds a novel of immense resonance as he cycles though perspectives that add layers of depth to the hesitations, missteps, and tensions as James tries to win Katherine. James's other pursuit is money, and Spring follows his investments and schemes, from a half share in a thoroughbred to a suit-and-tie day job he's taken to pay the bills. Spring is a sharply tuned novel so nuanced and precise in its psychology that it establishes Szalay as a major talent.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
If you’ve ever wondered what two people were thinking when they became a couple, wonder no more. Award-winning British novelist Szalay (London and the South-East) parses a romantic relationship with exquisite—and excruciating—attention to subterranean emotions. James, whose entrepreneurial streak caused him to skip university and, with money from a food franchise, make his mark in the film business, rode the dot-com boom to its inevitable failure. He now depends on a horseracing scheme to bolster his once palatial, currently more ordinary, lifestyle. Katherine works at a posh hotel where she intends to learn the ropes and open her own establishment, and is rebounding from an unsatisfying marriage to a cheating husband. After meeting at a wedding, they begin a relationship rife with incredible awkwardness, missed signals, and misinterpretations as well as dazzling promise—their sexual relationship marked with similar highs and lows. Szalay’s insights into the perspectives of both sexes illuminate the complexity and fragility of romantic coupling. His knowing eye and exacting prose (“Their weekend together had been pared down to the pathetic rind of Sunday evening”) bring perspicacity to the complications of love. (Jan.)
From the Publisher

Praise for Spring:

"Plenty of novelists have captivated readers with stories of passionate new relationships full of romance, optimism, and hot sex. In Spring, David Szalay pulls off a much harder trick, writing engrossingly about new lovers who manage to go straight to irritation, pessimism and pain. . . . This might be pretty bleak stuff if Szalay were not such a lyrical, precise writer, deftly capturing the hyperawareness that often stands in for real communication between couples. This awkward dance may be anything but dreamy, but it's irresistible to watch." —O, The Oprah Magazine

"[Szalay] doesn't shy away from anything, including awkward sex, in his vivisection of this unpromising affair. The result is an intense portrait of the challenging complexity of really connecting with someone." —Barnes & Noble Review

"Szalay is anything but traditional in his approach to romance. . . . [He] has a modern, understated voice and a gift for writing bursts of funny, yet still sharp, dialogue." —Shelf Awareness

"[A] nuanced and bracingly intelligent dissection of contemporary London life. . . . Szalay provides a sharp and occasionally humorous portrait not only of [James and Katherine] but of the mores of 21st-century romance among those for whom romance has had its old glamour grubbed up a bit by age, world-weariness and the demands of everyday life. Subtle in its psychology, elegantly written, with lively and amusing minor characters—an impressive novel." —Kirkus Reviews

"In Spring the gifted writer David Szalay explores the complex worlds of love and money, each with their surprises and vicissitudes. This novel made me feel in the best way that I was eavesdropping on a series of fascinating conversations. An insightful portrait of contemporary England." —Margot Livesey

"[Szalay] draws his main characters with subtly devastating insight." —The Boston Globe

"Szalay's insights into the perspectives of both sexes illuminate the complexity and fragility of romantic coupling. His knowing eye and exacting prose . . . bring perspicacity to the complications of love." —Publishers Weekly

"[Szalay] gets to the heart of what it means to encounter disappointment and heartache. His characters . . . are skilled in picking up the pieces of their broken lives and moving on to something better, however elusive better may prove to be." —Booklist

"Closely and elegantly observed. . . . Szalay seems to taunt the reader with his near-virtuosic range and his subtle comic touch." —The National Post (Canada)

"Lambent prose, which glitters and glints." —Daily Mail

"A brave venture . . . psychologically realistic." —Financial Times

Library Journal
James and Katherine, confused London hipsters, have recently entered into a relationship of sorts in Szalay's third novel (after The Innocent), which is also his U.S. debut. James is a wheeler-dealer who won and lost a fortune in the Internet boom and bust and has since embarked on a series of ventures of dubious legality. Katherine works in a posh London hotel, where she first met her estranged husband, a paparazzo stalking a starlet. It's not clear what James sees in Katherine, who is emotionally unavailable and does not appear to enjoy his company. Most of their conversations consist of: "What do you want to do?" "I don't know." The chapters are narrated from different perspectives, alternating among those of James, Katherine, and a couple of minor characters. VERDICT This novel may offer an accurate depiction of a contemporary relationship, in which nothing happens and no one can articulate what he or she wants, but it doesn't make for absorbing reading. Szalay's fine writing and flashes of insight can't rescue this novel from its insipid, tiresome, and self-absorbed characters.—Lauren Gilbert, Sachem P.L., Holbrook, NY
Kirkus Reviews
A precise portrait of a blurry affair. The third novel (and American debut) by the Canadian-born Szalay, one of the Daily Telegraph's Best 20 British Novelists Under 40, is a somewhat cold but nuanced and bracingly intelligent dissection of contemporary London life. James is a 30-something one-time dot-com megamillionaire now reduced to a meager middle-class existence with his dog, and reduced, too, to eking out a living via various iffy schemes, among them a shady business as a horse-racing tipster. Katherine, manager of a luxury hotel, is estranged from her husband, Fraser, an aging paparazzo who strayed with an underwear model, was exiled and now--perhaps a bit too desperately and adoringly for her comfort--wants his wife back. Szalay vivisects the awkward, tentative relationship that develops between Katherine and James, a sporadic companionship-with-benefits that is shadowed and complicated by the possibility of a resumption of her marriage to Fraser. She blows hot and cold, can be remote and enigmatic; he can seem needy and sex-obsessed. But both have appeal, too. James exudes a boyish sweetness and eagerness, and Katherine's hesitation and unreadability have less to do with emotional remoteness or with being a belle dame sans merci than with her genuine grief and confusion about what happened to her marriage. Both lovers are prone to ruthless postmortem examinations of their every encounter, and Szalay provides a sharp and occasionally humorous portrait not only of these two people but of the mores of 21st-century romance among those for whom romance has had its old glamour grubbed up a bit by age, world-weariness and the demands of everyday life. Subtle in its psychology, elegantly written, with lively and amusing minor characters--an impressive novel, but one with a slight morguelike chill.

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Product Details

Graywolf Press
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
5.58(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.77(d)

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By David Szalay

Graywolf Press

Copyright © 2011 David Szalay
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-55597-602-6

Chapter One

London light in the scuffed, keyed windows of a Piccadilly-line train from Heathrow. London light on the open spaces it hurries past, on the passing spokes of perpendicular suburban streets, on playing fields seen through a perimeter line of faint-shadowed trees. The train stops in outlying stations. Then it enters the howl of the tunnel and there is no more London light until he finds it later on the hotels and plane trees of Russell Square.

He is worried that things are not okay. When he phones her, standing in the stale silence of the flat, it is only because he wants to know that things are okay. On that question he is insatiable. Frustratingly, she does not answer her phone. Probably she is still on the tube.

They finally speak later, in the early evening.

Initially she sounds fine. And when he asks her how she is, she says, 'I'm fine.'

'What are you doing tonight?' he says.

'Staying in, I think.'

There is a silence, the very quiet hissing of the line, the pittering of the rain on the skylight. She says, 'I've got things to do. I've got to unpack, I've got to do some washing ...'

'Okay,' he says. 'That's fine.'

'I just need some time on my own ...'

'Okay,' he says. 'It's fine. What are you doing at the weekend?'

'The weekend?' she says. 'I don't know.'

This was what he feared. Something like this mysterious evasiveness. Something is not okay, has not been okay since Monday, when he missed the minibus that was supposed to take them to the snowline. At twenty to eleven on Monday morning he was in the Internet place in the medina—they were in Marrakech—in the hiss of frying, the whirring of the juicer, and the histrionic sorrow of a woman wailing an Arabic love song from the old stereo, trying to find out what had happened at Fakenham. It turned out that nothing had happened at Fakenham—the meeting had been abandoned due to waterlogging. Leaving the shop, he had five minutes to get to the Djemaa el Fna. Which would have been fine, if there hadn't been an accident in one of the narrow lanes of the medina—a moped had smashed into some scaffolding—forcing him to find another way, which in that labyrinth was easier said than done.

He was ten minutes late, and there was no sign of the minibus where she had said it would be. Nor was there any sign of her. He waited for a while, and then made his way through the alleyways of the medina to the hotel, where he went upstairs. She was not there. Nor was she at the pool. Nor on the terrace. When he tried her mobile there was no answer. It seemed she must have left without him and feeling forsaken, feeling forlorn, he went for a lonely walk in the souk. She was still not answering her phone.

To his surprise, he then found her at the pool, on a sun lounger, in the quiet of the sparrow song.

'I thought you went to the mountains,' he said.

And surprisingly, she laughed. 'No, of course not.'

He sat down on the neighbouring lounger, taking his feet out of his flip-flops and trying to get a sense of her mood. This was not easy—they had not known each other long, less than two months. The fact that she was wearing huge inscrutable sunglasses which hid not only her eyes but most of the upper half of her face did not make it any easier. Her nose was pale with factor forty, her Anglo-Swedish skin sensitive even to this spring sun. He stared at her through his own sunglasses, prescription Aviators, the dry wind fiddling with his thinning sandy hair. 'Where were you?' he said. 'I've been looking for you for the last two hours.'

'I went for a walk.'


'In the medina.'

'See anything interesting?'

She just stuck out her lower lip and shook her head. Then she picked up her book.

'I'm sorry I was late. There was this thing. I ...'

'It's okay,' she said, without looking up.

'Well ... I'm sorry.'

It was the siesta hour. The palm trees that stood in a line on one side of the terrace were whispering in the warm wind, their shadows mere stumps. 'Do you want to go tomorrow?' he said. 'To the mountains.'


'Are you sure?'


A few minutes later she went for a swim and in the small shade of his newspaper he tried to work out what it was about her mood that was so strange. There was something strange about it. She was lying in the pool with her arms stretched out on the side, her shape wavery in the water, her face tilted to the sun. (Her slick wet hair had an almost metallic sheen.) Her eyes were shut. He had expected her to be more upset. There was something strange about it.

He was still wondering what it was later, in the eucalyptus whisper of the steam room.

And he is still wondering now, tonight, in his flat in Mecklenburgh Street. He tries to picture that hour at the poolside, as the hotel's shadow moved slowly over the water, tries to picture everything that happened.

'I thought you went to the mountains,' he says.

Surprisingly, she laughs. 'No, of course not.'

The strangeness of that moment has been there ever since. It started on Monday at the poolside, and has just not stopped.

Chapter Two

Once he wanted more than he does now. Once, his idea of his own life, of what it was meant to be, was something magnificent. It seems a sort of insanity now. A sort of megalomania. An impediment to a proper view of the world. That idea of himself was formed when he still knew nothing about life, when he was still at school—and it has taken life twenty years, the last twenty years, to purge him of it. Probably that is an unusually long time.

He is shaving. The mirror is haloed with feeble steam. He isn't the same as he was even a few years ago. Even a year ago. Is it just tiredness? Is he just tireder than he was?

For quite a few years the space in which he lives has been shrinking. He has never seen the metaphorical force of this until now. Only half a dozen years ago he lived with Thomasina—sweet Thomasina!—in the house on Victoria Road. It was never even properly finished. For tax reasons, it was technically the property of Interspex, his Internet start-up, and Interspex was worth some eye-popping figure at the peak, in the millennial year. Many millions, tens, hundreds of millions. And then nothing, and the liquidators seized the house on Victoria Road while the Milanese artisans were still tiling the single-lane swimming pool ...

He stirs the razor in the scummy water. The next spring—après le déluge—found him washed up in Fulham. Then there were other places, each smaller than the last, and finally, Mecklenburgh Street. The ex-local-authority flat is in an unfaced terrace of London brick. The front doors of the houses are painted black—dust-bleared fanlights, massed doorbells. The basement flats have their own entrances. Metal steps, textured like a fire escape, tack down via a square landing. The area is littered with dead brown leaves. The bedroom curtains are permanently closed.

He pulls the plug and the shaving-water noisily sinks away. No more magnificence. Now he just wants things to be okay. He wants somewhere okay to live. An okay job. One or two holidays a year. Perhaps a few modest luxuries. A middle-class life in other words. And a woman. Of course a woman. She is the indispensable ingredient for such a life. Without her it would have quite a sad, lonely look. Yes, without her, there would be something sad, something futile, about those few small luxuries. He towels his face in the forty-watt light of the bathroom—it is an odd stooping space, under someone else's stairs, the frigid London morning sliding in through a lint-furred vent. There is this Katherine King. This woman he has been seeing for the last month or two. Indeed, it is possible that she is the inspiration for this whole train of thought—that the idea of a middle-class life in London, forever, has its sudden look of enticing plausibility now that it is framed in terms of a middle-class life in London, forever, with her. These days, to imagine other things—new things—leaves him feeling exhausted. (And, he thinks, splashing the sink's limescaled surface, surely that has as much to do with its sudden look of enticing plausibility as she does.) She is still married to someone else, of course. Not an insurmountable problem. They met at a wedding, a winter wedding in London. Her father was some sort of Swedish financier, and it showed—her straight, sharply parted hair was sawdust. She had her English mother's voice. They exchanged phone numbers. Met up the following week ... (He turns off the tap and tugs the sprung string of the light, snapping on the darkness.) The start was unpromising, to say the least. In fact, things started with a total fiasco. On their first night together he was unable to have sex with her. That wasn't the fiasco, of course. That was essentially fine. They fell asleep in a loose spoon with the light still on in the hall. No, that was not the fiasco.

The next Tuesday they had supper at the old trattoria near his flat—a place that still offered a prawn-cocktail starter served in a little stainless-steel dish and flaunted the stale-looking desserts in a transparent fridge. There, they were unable to keep their hands off each other and having made a spectacle of themselves for an hour they walked back to Mecklenburgh Street. As soon as the door was shut he started to kiss her. Still standing in the hall, still urgently kissing her, he lifted her short skirt and pulled everything down as far as her mid-thighs. Still kissing him, she seemed to make a weak effort to stop him. Instead he pulled everything further down, past her wavering knees, until she lifted first one foot and then the other to let him tug the things off. They stumbled into the bedroom and ended up on the floor. It seems to him that what happened next has introduced a permanent flaw into everything that followed. He was moving in a fog of fear there on the floor as he started hurriedly to unfasten his trousers. His view of the situation was mechanistic—it seems strange to him now how straightforwardly mechanistic it was. For what had happened last time to happen once, he thought, was okay. If it happened twice it might start to seem like a problem.

'Please don't come inside me,' she said.

Suddenly still, they lay there in silence for a few seconds. Then she said, 'Did you come inside me?'

He was not even sure. He had been so preoccupied with other things ... 'I don't know,' he said.

She laughed and sat up straight, pulling her skirt into place. 'What do you mean you don't know?'

'I don't know. Maybe ...'

'You don't know whether you came?'


She laughed again and said, 'I can't believe this.'


'Is that just normal for you?'

'No ...'

She was shaking her head. 'I ... I never let anyone come inside me. I've only ever let one person do that. Someone I was totally in love with.'

For a moment he wondered who this man was. Then he stood up, stumbling in his lowered trousers. 'Look, I'm sorry,' he said.

'You don't know whether you came?' She sounded shocked, on the verge of tears.

'I'm not sure. I think so.'

'That's just weird.'

'I'm sorry ...'

'What if I get pregnant?'

'You're not likely to get pregnant ...'

'Why not?' she said. 'What do you mean?'

'I mean you're not likely to get pregnant. It's not likely. From one ... you know ...'

She seemed to be looking at something on the floor, though outside the shape of light that spilled in from the hall it was too dark to see anything. 'This isn't what I expected,' she said. He put out his hand and touched her. When he tried to hug her she stood stiffly in his embrace. He sighed and sat down on the edge of the bed. Leaving him there, she went to the bathroom, evidently to settle the question of whether or not he had ejaculated inside her. He heard the toilet flush, fistfuls of water splash in the sink. When she unlocked the door, she picked up her things from the floor in the hall and went into the living room.

The standard lamp was on and she was standing next to his desk, inspecting her tights. She did not look at him.

'I'm sorry ...' he said.

Still without looking at him, and in a more quivering-lipped tone than the first time, she said, 'This isn't what I expected.'

The wind howled in the dark shaft over the skylight.

He stood there, wondering what to do.

'I think I'm going to go,' she said quietly.

However, she did not put on her tights. She was still standing there next to the desk. She seemed to be waiting for him to say something. 'Don't go. Please don't go,' he said, shocked into total sincerity. 'Please. That would be terrible.'

* * *

In the morning she had a shower and, when she was dressed, he said he would walk her to Russell Square station.

'No,' she said. 'It's okay.'

'Are you sure?'

She nodded quickly. 'M-hm.'

He followed her out into the frigid shade of the area, where the dead leaves were veined with ice, and watched her walk up the metal steps. On the pavement, in a flare of sunlight, she waved to him, but when they spoke on the phone the next day, she sounded strange, and vague, and as if her heart was not in what she was saying. He persuaded her to see him on Sunday—she wasn't free, she said, until then—and then when they spoke on Sunday afternoon, she said she was tired, that she had been working since eight in the morning, and how about meeting some other time?

There was a longish silence.

He said, 'Look, I want to see you. Today. Please.'

She sighed. 'I'm tired, that's all. I look shit. And I won't be much fun to be with. I've got to do some ironing . . .'

'Why don't we meet at your place then?'

'Well ...' she laughed. 'If you don't mind watching me iron.'

'I don't mind watching you iron,' he said.

On the tube he started to wonder whether he should have forced it like that. She very obviously did not want to see him. For a few minutes he loitered in the foyer of Angel station, wondering what to do. Then he set off up Essex Road in the sleet, and when she opened the door he was soaking wet.

Her flat was on the upper floor of a modest terraced house on Packington Street. The downstairs entrance hall was a narrow moth-eaten space full of unloved objects, from where severely straitened steps went up to a landing under a light bulb and the plain front door of the flat.

'Do you want a towel?' was the first thing she said.

He said he did, and while she went for one he waited in the hall, and then followed her into the living room.

'How are you?' she asked.

'I'm okay. Wet.'

'Do you want some wine?'

She had already started on the wine. He took off his jacket and towelled his soaking hair. He had a sense, handing her the towel, exchanging it for wine, that things were not quite as hopeless as he had thought. It had started with the way she looked at him when she opened the door, the way she took a moment to let him fill her eyes. And she was not ironing; there was no sign of the ironing board. Still, when the wine was finished he expected to be encouraged to leave—so he was surprised when instead she said, 'Do you want to get something to eat?'


'There's this Indian,' she said. 'It's okay.'


Leaving the house he wondered whether this was the moment to touch her, whether even to try and kiss her. Something about her posture—hands shoved in pockets, shoulders hunched—prevented him. The pavements shone wetly as they walked. They stopped in front of the Taste of India on Essex Road, under the sopping green awning, and he touched her for the first time as they went in. It was not much of a touch—letting her precede him through the plate-glass door, he placed his hand lightly on her back for a moment. She might not even have felt it through the substantial white puffa jacket she was wearing. Inside, in the tired velvet shadows and quiet, seemingly formless sitar music, they studied takeaway menus. There was a palpable Sunday-night atmosphere. Standing there, poised to take their order, the waiter yawned.


Excerpted from Spring by David Szalay Copyright © 2011 by David Szalay. Excerpted by permission of Graywolf Press. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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