There is always a danger when revisiting books you read a long time ago that they might not be as good as you remember. This realisation can be such a terrible let down, you feel cheated that you carried around a certain idea of something for such a long time and then you wonder at your own lack of taste the first time around. This feeling is exacerbated by the amount of time that has elapsed since you first read the book, one should exercise a certain caution then in re-reading something from childhood. Of course sometimes that book is everything you remembered it to be, and it’s an absolute pleasure –
I read One Hot Summer in St.Petersburg by Duncan Fallowell a very long time ago. It wasn’t quite a childhood read, if I had to estimate I would say I was about 12 – and undoubtably there was plenty in there that was not age appropriate. Literature wise I got away with absolute murder when I was younger, the consequence of being surrounded by adults who don’t read is they they never check what you’re greedily getting stuck into. Something about this book stuck with me though, the heady atmosphere of a foreign city in summer, a city undergoing massive upheaval, a city in all its moods, daydream, reality, insanity.
Years later I’m glad to say I found this book to be a marvellous rediscovery, whatever caught me the first time is still there in the same way that I remember. I think now I’m a (sort of) adult what strikes me is that there is a lot in this book that is similar to the way I travel and experience places, or surrender to places, I can see myself reflected here which is why I like it so much. When I was younger I couldn’t have known that, but must have picked up on the mood anyway. I’m busy making my own plans to spend the summer in Berlin so I think re-reading One Hot Summer has been somewhat tantilising. I can feel the essence of my old european summers in the pages; running through Prague in a thunder storm one night in July, forks of lightening illuminating the skyline. Sunburn in Paris after a day at Versailles. Endless nights in Berlin, drinking wine in the park, walking home at 9am. And all the really awful stuff as well, when you want to cry for no reason, when you feel like a city is alluding you, when it all seems too intense, when you struggle to make a connection to it as a ‘real’ place. I’ve found that almost inevitably wherever you are the best and worst part is always the people. It’s almost time for summer on the continent again, but not quite, so reading this book was both satisfying and frustrating at the same time. I just wanted to be in it, now.
‘Many times in life one may encounter someone who touches us with an adorable and perplexing charm, who cuts the ordinary day with a moment of magic, and almost at once the person has gone, been swept away, sucked back into the crowd. When rarely, through force of circumstance or ingenuity or imagination or daring, one manages to arrest this transience, to jam the conveyor belt of passing events and say no, stop, yes, hullo, and retrieve that person from their fall into the pit of what might have been, and bring him or her forward into the real, the now, the light, your life, this is . . . important. And it means still more in a place where one has little, nothing. And this happened. And as suddenly, it came to naught. I thought this contact meant something. Does anything mean anything here, or is it all fucking quicksand? Is every gesture hollow? How can a person be so full of it one day, and the next – nothing? Is it possible to know someone in this town?’
– One Hot Summer in St.Petersburg
If you’re interested then here’s an interview with Duncan Fallowell: http://www.prospectmagazine.co.uk/magazine/duncanfallowellinterviewed/