by Melissa Lee-Houghton
Saul is a significant prose writer whose technique and intellect show
pure workmanship in his stories. There is no drivel, it is all wrought
steadily and carefully and so seamlessly it is almost impossible to
The first two stories, Mersey and Elbe have remained
the most enduring for me; Saul takes the word "let" and gives it a pang
of bittersweet sadness, then makes a whole story teeter on it. Elbe is a
masterwork, and I would be surprised if the author did not regard it
highly amongst his own work. Three separate narratives intertwine, but
barely. The effect is expertly readable, and there are no awkward
trails. The story itself is again characterized by episodes of emotion
and personal introspection, focused on the physical turning of an
immense cargo ship in the Elbe. The changes in reverie, and changes of
heart happen during the churning of the water, the tugging of the ship
in transition to send in the other direction. The characters seem very
alone, and almost as though they have isolated themselves, unwittingly
or not. One speaks broadly and perhaps too honestly. One has a heart
in-check, and the sailor out at sea for just-endurable durations is
lost to the continuity of sailing, the sky, and feelings which are like
is limber, cosmopolitan, and follows the meanderings of a philosopher
in Paris, flushed with melancholy for a gone relationship. The main
character seemed like Moses Herzog, from Saul Bellow's novel; in his
ineffability with regards to love. The philosopher's mind had been long
addled with greater things, with books and ideas.
After years of living with
Marianne, he remembers just a handful of the things she said.
I want to sleep.
I want to sleep in your
I want to sleep in your bed with
The story is sharp and filled with
the language and scenery of a sad French film.
In Butley, a man
falls over a couple in the countryside and then goes with the strangers
to a small boat off-shore. It's enigmatically turbulent, and does not
rely on the art of seeing how far a story can be pushed. Subtlety winds
the tale into a deliciously anxious climax.
Saul can write descriptive prose of
such quality that one is always
aware of the sky, and weather, and the exact tone of the dialogue,
which is not written in inverted commas but rather interlocuted within
the prose, oozing poetic resonance. His almost obsessive depictions of
nature, sea, sun, sky etc. are something even one of his characters
picks up on in Stour:
Skying means recording the moods of the sky.
The final story, Tagus, takes us
through the vivid imaginative
wanderings of a broken hearted man. More than just being a clever
story, it evokes a lover's tragedy in a new way. The descriptions of
this pseudo journey are magical, and then the reality flashes back in
helplessly emotionally provocative lines like "I miss you. I don't
accept there could be a good life without you." The writer knows
how and when to involve us.
Rivers Flow is a beautifully conceived collection which
physicality of nature, of flowing rivers and ebbing sea tides, and adds
human sorrow, loss, and also love.
Read an excerpt
from this collection on SaltPublishing.com
Lee-Houghton is a poet and author of Patterns
of Mourning by Chipmunka Publishing,and has
poetry upcoming in Tears in the Fence 51.
2009 Frank O'Connor International Short Story Award
bio: John Saul is the author of a forthcoming
novel from Salt Publishing, and two previous short story collections, Call it Tender and The Most Serene Republic
He was born in Liverpool, was educated in Oxford and Paris and now
lives in Suffolk.
with John Saul
this book (used or
Publisher: Salt Modern Fiction
Author's Recommended Bookseller: Browsers Bookshop (UK)
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you in the US
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