Note: My afterthoughts on this collection have now been posted
My first introduction to Simon Van Booy came in January 2009 when Harper Perennial opened the doors to their wonderful Fifty-Two Stories website. For their inaugural post they chose the story The Missing Statues, from the then not-so-well-known author, taken from his collection, Love Begins in Winter. I reviewed that story the following month, and although I didn’t award it one of my highest scores ever (I didn’t like the ending), I remarked that there was such a poetic resonance to Van Booy that his story was a real joy to read.
It seems that I wasn’t the only one who was taken by the magnificence of the aspiring young writer. Fast forward only a few short months (September to be exact), and Van Booy’s The Secret Lives of People in Love was to pick up The Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. The writer was on the up. His year was ending in the best possible way, and with a fan base (which included lil ole me) that was growing bigger every day.
Now in 2010 Simon Van Booy returns with a reissue of his debut collection, The Secret Lives of People in Love (Beautiful Books; published in the US by Harper Perennial) and I couldn’t be more excited about reading and reviewing it. You’ve probably guessed already why I’ve got ants in my pants about this collection, but I’m going to tell you anyway . I’ll begin with the cover blurb:
The stories in The Secret Live of People in Love are set in present day New York City, Wales, Cornwall, Paris, Rome and Greece. Simon Van Booy explores love’s labour and love’s loss with masterful simplicity and in touching detail. His prose is sparse, economical and evanescent; his characters are vulnerable and private; his voice is reverent, haunting and profoundly humane.
Now that’s about as succinct as a cover blurb gets I think, but it sums up nicely the kind of writer that Van Booy is. From my own reading experience of the author I find that Van Booy not only possesses a profound ability in being able to draw out distinct elements of the human condition – particularly those around the theme of relationships – but he’s able to convey his thoughts in such a way that the reader is left gasping at the artfulness of his prose, and the astuteness of his observations. When a writer like that comes along with a second story collection that I haven’t read, you can bet your life I’ll be interested in it, and that’s the main reason I look like I’m overdosing on Red Bull.
There is one other reason though. I’m also drawn to this reissued collection because of its promise of something cosmopolitan. Not only are all the stories set in various locations around the globe, but many of these locations (all?) seem to be ones which Van Booy is intimately familiar with. Breaking it down, he spent his childhood in Wales and he also returned there for a year during his time at university. And during is time at university he transferred to the Dartington College of Arts in Devon, which if you know your geography is right next to Cornwall. I also read that Van Booy also spent some time in Paris (staying at the world-famous Shakespeare and Company bookshop no less). I can find no direct ‘evidence’ that Van Booy ever lived in Rome. But given that he went to Athens to teach English for a spell, it’s not outrageous to suggest that he nipped over to the Italian capital from time to time. Nowadays home for Van Booy is New York City, where he lives his young daughter.
So if nothing else Van Booy’s globetrotting must have given him something of a working knowledge of all of the places that he writes about. And that excites me because there’s no guesswork involved on the part of the author when it comes establishing setting, and his worldly knowledge must only enrich the cosmopolitan feel of the collection. That to me is a bit yummy!!
So dear reader I’ve given you two compelling reasons as to why I’m so excited to have The Secret Live of People in Love in front of me. And I think for now I have little more to say. I’m sure that I’ve made it clear just how excited I am about journeying through this collection, but to be honest I’m a little worried that I may have set my expectations too high. I don’t think so because everything that I’ve read so far from Van Booy has hit the mark with me in some way or other, and I don’t expect this collection to be any different. Ultimately though I’ll have to wait and see.
But the good news is I wont have to wait too long because I begin my journey through The Secret Live of People in Love right now and I hope very much that you will accompany me. As is usually the case when I work through a short story collection/anthology I intend to read every story in order, providing a review for each individual story read. Once I’ve gone through the collection I will gather together all of the individual reviews and submit my final review for the collection as a whole.
Meanwhile you can follow my progress through those aforementioned individual story review posts, and on the virtual pages of my reading journal (there’s been no entries made for a while but that’s about to change). And if the mood takes me (which I’m sure it will because I seem to want to shout out to the world whenever I finish reading a Van Booy story) I may also pass comment on Twitter.
To aid you in keeping up with my progress, and to give you a handy ‘hub page’ from where you leapfrog to any of the individual reviews, I’m also listing the contents of the collection below, and I will link them to the individual reviews once they’re posted. As far as timescales go I’m not setting any kind of time limit on when I intend to finish working my way through The Secret Live of People in Love. I just want to enjoy the stories at my own pace, without any pressures of ‘cramming’ creeping into the proceedings.
Oh and If I’ve whetted your appetite for a little more Simon Van Booy then I invite you to visit the author’s website, and/or to work your way through the FREE Van Booy story offerings at Fifty-Two Stories – The Missing Statues, Tiger, Tiger and French Artist Killed in Sunday’s Earthquake (this is one of the stories from this latest collection). Enjoy!
Contents of The Secret Lives of People in Love (links lead to individual reviews of each story, when posted)
Beautiful Books | June 2010 | £7.99 | PAPERBACK | 288 PP | ISBN: 9781905636945
Harper Perennial | February 2010 | $13.99 | PAPERBACK | 208 PP | ISBN: 9780061766121
A note about forethoughts
‘Forethoughts’ offer an insight into what my initial thoughts and impressions of a book are before I begin reading it. Informal, and largely written as a stream-of-consciousness exercise in a single sitting, my ‘forethoughts’ capture an important stage of the reading experience for me – the anticipatory period before the book is first opened, when my excitement is piqued for the reading experience which lies ahead.
Blissfully ignorant my ‘forethoughts’ may well be, but when combined with my eventual ‘afterthoughts’, the result is a unique and comprehensive record of a very personal literary ‘journey’ through a particular book; a literary journey which will hopefully be of some value to other readers.