The Lost Art of Sinking
Penned in the Margins
For the last month I have been pretty dedicated to reading War and Peace. No other book has had a look in for about five weeks, but neither have I felt the need to read something else. That is, until The Lost Art of Sinking dropped through my post box.
Penned in the Margins asked me a couple of weeks ago whether I was interested in reading their upcoming release from Naomi Booth. They sold it well - 'a dark comedy about losing yourself'. Booth's fascination with swooning was mentioned (she's writing a monograph on the subject), and it was this which initially grabbed my attention. I too find fainting/swooning fascinating and have done since reading an offhand comment in one of Jane Austen's juvenile works warning us to 'beware of swoons'. That one comment has stuck with me for years (literally) so, long story short, I could hardly turn down the opportunity of reading this novella about the art of fainting.
Described as a dark comedy, this novella is the story of Esther who is obsessed with fainting and 'performing' her faints (she often talks about audiences).
'Some call it the Fainting Game, others Indian Headrush - but it's all the rage amongst the girls of class 2B'
You learn early on that there is something going on with her mother who never leaves her dancer's studio built in their house. This relationship with her mother, or Moira as she calls her, is significant and often sits just behind the text.
'Sometimes she was on wonderful form. She would usher me in and immediately set off on a story, as though she was restarting a conversation from a moment before. She told me her history as though she was recounting it to a journalist, balancing facts with appealing, atmospheric detail.'
The story moves swiftly from her parental home in Todmorden, to a squat in Leeds and then to London. Throughout Esther's narration is both forthright and distorted. The details she choses to share are significant and often similar images emerge repeatedly - there are some brilliantly vivid descriptions of her thoughts about blood. Not in a way that'll make the reader swoon, but in a way that'll make you really appreciate Booth's way with language. You can almost hear her and, by proxy Esther, trying out the words on her tongue.
Esther herself is a striking character. She has a bold and truthful voice, but you can tell that her narrative is carefully curated. I can't decide whether it is this which gives her an element of otherworldliness. There's something about her that seems somewhat fantastical, but then she is also so rooted in the world she lives in.
For me the story often fell secondary to the language, which goes to show how brilliant the language is as the story is perfectly compelling. Booth's writing is rich, layered and so utterly stunning.
'And now, lying in my new bed, I thought of all the people in London, living in parallel, their rooftops multiplying away towards the city centre. I was thinking that most would never know, or even wonder about me. I could chalk them up as parallel lines on a wall and they would repeat away, exceeding my ability to mark them, because of all the new people being born. And even though I couldn't count them, we were all in the city together, at the same time, duplicating one another. I was joining them, just like she had before me; we were all lying in parallel.'
This is a quick read - I think I devoured it in around an hour, but then I had just finished War and Peace so there's that. Regardless of how fast I read it, I'm still leaving it by my bedside for a re-read in a week or so. I'm certain there's more to be found.
I would recommend The Lost Art of Sinking without a shadow of a doubt. It is an unusual, beautifully written and deeply affecting novella with a narrator who seems to linger after the final full stop.
Have you read this? Can you recommend any other novellas you think I should try?