Story 2 by David Szalay

There’s no necessity to love equally all the stories in a collection. (I know this was billed as a novel anyway.) Purely my personal prejudice, but handsome, high-cheekboned teenagers like Simon in Story 1, going inter-railing round Europe while reading Henry James to enhance their Oxbridge prospects, aren’t so much my thing. Story 2 however I simply adore. It’s glorious. Pot-smoking university dropout Bernard who lives in the suburbs of Lille goes on holiday by himself to Cyprus where he meets Charmian and her mother Sandra. It’s an Apollonian-Dionysian opposition, configured through selling windows, sitting Biochemistry exams, holding down a job versus getting the sack, sex, freedom and sun: “Mind empty. He is aware of nothing except the heat of the sun. The heat of the sun. Life.”

I also loved Story 3.

From All That Man Is, Vintage, 2017. Also picked by Philip Hensher in his Penguin Book of Contemporary Short Stories, Penguin 2018

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