A few years ago I wrote the following words, as part of this review:
As Heidi Kohlenberg has noted, for all his gutsy glumness, Turgidovsky is the master of faintly comic desperation. The fact is, he has no real staying power. In fact, I fear that he fears complete desperation. In fact, he clearly fears it as well, which probably explains his post-modern interjection in Chapter Fourteen [of The Lunatic] as well as his personal appearance (surely a self-conscious veil for his inability to be as truly wretched in prose as he would wish?) That’s not to say that there aren’t some winningly pathetic moments in his novel – the storyline with a man who falls in love with a woman based on her cough is a highlight – but in the end, Turgidovksy’s despondency is the type that gnaws. It’s the feather tickling one’s toes, the mouse nibbling at the Gorgonzola. Tortuous in its way, but not what would you call fatal.
What was I thinking? I seem to have underestimated the severity of Turgidovsky’s glumness, mistaking it instead for ‘faintly comic desperation’. I even go so far as to describe his particular brand of misery as a ‘feather tickling one’s toes’! This is, I think, a grievous error. Turgidovsky has never wielded a feather. He lays sadness on in spades, throughout his entire ouevre. It has been said (on many an occasion) that his sense of desperation is so acute that it comes back around again to jubilation, but I for one am beginning to doubt this. The Lunatic, admittedly, has its comic moments: a multitude of them, in fact. But it doesn’t even come close to gnawing at one’s heart. This is a book that smashes hearts with a wordy mallet. The same applies to Delicious Air of Life. Now there is a novel dowsed in despair, awash with wailing and suffused with solemnity. Turgidovsky takes despondency much more seriously than I have ever given him credit for. We pretend to laugh, perhaps, because we cannot conceive the depth of what he is doing. Were we able to do so, rest assured the smiles would drop off our faces, sink to the floor and be crushed, definitively, beneath our calloused feet.