Quick Review: TURBULENCE by David Szalay (Scribner/Jonathan Cape)

SzalayD-TurbulenceUSA novel of the intersection of twelve lives

A woman strikes up a conversation with the man sitting next to her on a plane after some turbulence. He returns home to tragic news that has also impacted another stranger, a shaken pilot on his way to another continent who seeks comfort from a journalist he meets that night. Her life shifts subtly as well, before she heads to the airport on an assignment that will shift more lives in turn.

In this wondrous, profoundly moving novel, Szalay’s diverse protagonists circumnavigate the planet in twelve flights, from London to Madrid, from Dakar to Sao Paulo, to Toronto, to Delhi, to Doha, en route to see lovers or estranged siblings, aging parents, baby grandchildren, or nobody at all. Along the way, they experience the full range of human emotions from loneliness to love and, knowingly or otherwise, change each other in one brief, electrifying interaction after the next.

This is the first of David Szalay’s novels that I have read, and it will not be the last: I was very impressed. A relatively short novel, it offers an interesting look at the lives of twelve different people and the events that connect them. Insightful and interesting, I enjoyed this.

Turbulence is effectively presented as twelve short stories told from the perspectives of twelve different people. Each story is connected, though, as the primary perspective features in the previous story in one way or another. The POV characters may be peripheral, or (as in the first and second) two people who sat next to each other on a flight. Think of each story as the next domino in a chain of dominos — events of first lead into the second, which leads into the third, and so on. Szalay gives each of his characters a distinctive voice, and spends a little bit of time giving us insight into their lives and struggles: a retiree, a wealthy businessman, a pilot, a journalist, and so on. Each character offers a different perspective on modern life and the various concerns that can shape our lives.

SzalayD-TurbulenceUKAs you can see from the synopsis, the novel covers quite a bit of ground. Using international air travel as a way of connecting his characters, Szalay shows us a little bit of the ways in which contact with others (coincidental or long-term) can have an impact on our decisions and lives. I really enjoyed this aspect of the novel, and it’s a simple-yet-clever device on which to frame the story (or stories, I suppose) that the author wants to tell.

The use of disparate perspectives seems to be a favourite of the author: the synopsis of his Man Booker-nominated All That Man Is seems to suggest a similar approach — albeit, the characters may not be as cleanly connected as in Turbulence. I’ll have to read that novel very soon (I bought it after finishing this one).

I won’t write any more about the novel, as not knowing how each story will connect was a big part of the fun and enjoyment of reading it.

Szalazy has an excellent, economic writing style. It’s clear, evocative and yet never florid or over-done. I read the book in just two sittings, and I am very eager to try more of his work. I think a lot of people will enjoy this.

Definitely recommended.


Turbulence is published by Scribner in North America (July 16th) and Jonathan Cape in the UK (out now).

Follow the Author: Goodreads
Review copy received via Edelweiss

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s