I wanted to love this book. I didn’t. It didn’t satisfy.
I need to be gripped by a story and dragged headlong through it. I want to regret closing the book so I can sleep. I want to race through to the last chapters and then slow down because I don’t want it to end. Because it was that good.
Salter’s language was delicious. The sound of the words, the way he combined them, the rhythm and shape of the sentences. The eroticism. The sometimes surprising frankness was refreshing and delightful. Not since reading Sonya Hartnett’s Surrender have I thought so much about the language of a story, the author’s choice of words. But the story (A Sport…) itself didn’t grip me. I found myself resisting picking it up again. Found myself disconnected from the characters. It felt as though giving them names was an afterthought, and they were there only as vehicles to drive the language of the book.
I remember feeling a little like this while reading Surrender too – as though the writer was keeping me from fully entering the story by ensuring I oohed and ahhed over the language and sentence structure. Like Surrender, A Sport and a Pastime’s language is luminous and poetic and exciting. It rolls from the tongue plump and juicy. It sounds like music to the ears. But for all that this adds and shows the skill and deft touch of the writer, for me. It also takes away from the experience of reading.
I need to be immersed, not only in the language but in the story itself. I want to connect with the characters, to feel as though I am personally involved in their story, and to be swept away by it. I didn’t really care about Dean and Anne-Marie, nor did I care about or for the mystery narrator – though they at least had some substance. The other characters felt more like cardboard cutouts there only to populate a scene.
I am in awe of Salter’s skills as a writer, but I need more than beautiful words. I need a compelling story, and characters I can care about.