My wife tried to persuade me the other day (Wednesday, I think it was) to go and sit in a dark maladorous room with a group of soft-drink swilling strangers and watch a marriage fall apart slowly on a large screen. I declined the offer.
It’s not that I don’t like watching marriages fall apart; rather the way that popular culture deals with it. Last year she foisted that book on me; the one about the newlyweds and their ‘difficult’ wedding night. It wasn’t a long book, but all the same I threw it into the sea long before the last sentence. The ‘difficult’ wedding night is a hard one to manage – and I wasn’t sure that this particular author hadn’t made a mess of it. No, when it comes to sustained sexual embarrassment, one really needs to turn to a master of the form.
Take Turgidovsky, for example. Now, I can’t vouch for his emotional state, but it seems that the hairy Russian writer had a lot of bad sex on his mind when writing Delicious Air. If his former novel, The Lunatic, was crammed to the rafters with unrequited love, his present tendency is towards loveless marriages. Not just loveless: disastrous, desperate and destructive. It’s all there – everything that you could wish to go wrong, duly does. He doesn’t miss a trick, this Turgidovsky fellow.
On page two hundred and ninety four we are introduced to the first of four newlyweds that populate the novel. Christian and Mary are, as the names suggest, a religiously minded couple: young, virginal, idealistic. What could go wrong? What indeed. Perhaps they shouldn’t have chosen to honeymoon in Vladivostock? Ah, but you can’t blame that wonderful city for everything. Before reading this novel, I feared that Turgidovsky would be using the great port as an excuse to rage about chemical pollution. I underestimated him. It’s not that Turgidovsky doesn’t care about chemical pollution in Vladivostock – but that, ultimately, that’s only one of a host of things going wrong. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. Turgidovsky isn’t interested in big symbols of human tragedy – for everything about humans is tragic. There is no end to it.
Mean-spirited he is, but also even-handed. Lest you think his attack on Christian and Mary is anti-religious, he does his level best elsewhere to remind his readers that everyone makes the same mistakes, merely in different ways. Which is to say that his atheistic couple fare no better. No one comes off lightly and no answers are supplied. Everyone is unhappy in their own special way. Ah, Turgidovsky – what a sweetheart you are!