Turbulence by David Szalay review: Minor work from a major talent

The best way to regard this book is as a stepping stone for a very gifted writer

David Szalay: tremendous talent. Photograph: Awakening/Getty Images

David Szalay: tremendous talent. Photograph: Awakening/Getty Images

All That Man Is, the fourth novel by the English writer David Szalay, marked the ascension of a tremendous talent. Its 400-plus pages glided by in an orgy of sustained pleasure, and left you gagging for more. It was the kind of book that circulated by fervent word of mouth and met with a near unanimity of rapture.

Turbulence is a slighter work, in every sense. It shares with All That Man Is a fluent internationalism, and a structure that plants it in a fertile borderland between the novel and the collection of stories. The earlier work comprised nine portraits of men around the world, passing by degrees from youth to old age so that a composite picture emerged of man in full. Although Turbulence is far shorter, it contains 12 sections, and they are linked in concrete rather than purely thematic ways. This time there are as many female characters as male.

The baton-passing structure traces 12 flights between cities around the globe, from Doha to Dakar, Sao Paulo to Seattle. The section titles denote the airports of departure and arrival: LGW – MAD; HKG – SGN, and so on. Like its predecessor, Turbulence is clearly not the work of a little Englander. Szalay has lived in Budapest for years, and his instincts are global, cosmopolitan, borderless. His characters have names such as Cheikh, Shamgar and Amir Bannerjee. Those who struggle to muster zeal for fiction set in drably familiar locales can rely on Szalay for the pleasures of armchair wanderlust.

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