Friday, 18 December 2015

Forgotten Book - Something Like a Love Affair

Something Like a Love Affair was published in 1992, and not long after it came out, I seized the chance to ask its author, Julian Symons, to inscribe my copy. Under the inscription, in his tiny, immaculate handwriting, he wrote "A good title?" and then, under that, "A good book??" The title is not, I think, anything special, but the book is certainly a good one. It does, however, qualify for the description "forgotten". I've seen very little discussion of it anywhere.

In fact, I enjoyed re-reading Something Like a Love Affair even more than I enjoyed the story the first time around. One of the reasons is that now I can see more clearly than I saw then what he was aiming for, a fresh spin on a device introduced (unless there's an earlier example of which I'm unaware) by an author whom Julian and I both admired - Anthony Berkeley. It's a form of "whowasduni" story. There are a few poorish reviews of this book online, but I take a different view: it offers a nice example of storytelling technique from a very talented novelist.

We know from the outset that the police have discovered a body, but we don't know whose body it is. The action then goes back a short distance in time, and we are introduced to Judith Lassiter. On the surface she has a lot to be thankful for: she is attractive, well-off,and has a doting husband. But she isn't happy, and as the story unfolds, we begin to understand why.

As in a number of his books, Symons combines a portrayal of mental disintegration with a cunningly plotted mystery. Nowadays, his fiction is much less renowned than that of his friend Patricia Highsmith, but I see quite a few similarities between what they were trying to do with the post-war crime novel. Highsmith was the superior literary stylist, but Symons' plots were cleverer. I've always thought it a paradox that it was she and not he who wrote a book about plotting suspense fiction. But much as I relished Something Like a Love Affair, I was struck by a passage which quotes from the day's newspaper headlines: trouble in the Middle East and global warming were major concerns then, just as they are today. As for the question marks.after "A good book", they indicate the modesty of the man. He judged his own work by exacting standards, but I think he was pleased with this one and I'd be pleased to have written it too.  

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