Holiday reading is one of those areas of book selling which is still pretty healthy. The buying of books at an airport, train or bus station makes up quite a high percentage of sales (I’ve done my research, you know). Rodge Glass, and Freight Publishing, have pulled off a neat trick with Glass’ new collection of short stories Love Sex Travel Music by presenting a book which looks like it is essential travel kit, belonging with your sunnies and sun cream in your hand luggage. However, it is quite an incendiary device.
It is sub-titled ‘Stories for the EasyJet Generation’, and in a way that’s what they are as it is only with the advent of cheap travel that the breadth of destinations that Glass takes us to would be even thinkable to most people. But if readers pick this up and expect a romantic or idealised fictional ‘Rough Guide…’ they are in for quite a surprise, and that’s where the real pleasure lies.
The lyric which stuck in my head as I read the book was ‘You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave’, from The Eagles nightmarish ‘Hotel California’. While most of the characters in this collection use distance from home to re-evaluate their lives and their selves, their own weaknesses, fears and hangups remain, and are sometimes exaggerated. Everyone seems to be trying to escape something, be it from the past, the present or the future, but you can’t escape yourself, no matter how hard you try and how far you go. Travel may broaden the mind, but sometimes the mind can’t take it.
If these travellers were to pass each other in the airports of the world, they may recognise a shared ennui, a literal world weariness at how their lives have unfolded, and as local cultures are replaced by an homogeneous Western one, every destination starts to bleed into the next. Bars, music (or ‘musik’) and the videos that accompany it, clothing, and even the people, start to look the same. You may as well never leave the Weatherspoons in the departure lounge, the very definition of a modern nightmare. That’s almost true, but, then again, it’s also completely false.
There is still enough variety in people and places to make somewhere else worth visiting. On their travels Glass’s characters do learn more about themselves than they may have imagined. He reminds us that it is still true that nothing puts home into clearer perspective than leaving it, and there are those who come to personal epiphanies, although they don’t always like what they discover. Of the four words of the title, it is ‘Love’ and ‘Sex’ which seem to lead to the most soul searching, or at least dissatisfaction. Like the destinations to which they travel, there is some distance between the ideal and the reality. In Love Sex Travel Musik, lessons are learned, and lives are changed to a greater or lesser degree, but such an education is hard earned, and there is always a hidden fee to pay.
Rodge Glass is one of the most interesting writers around as he seems to be getting more vibrant, exciting, engaged and vital as he gets older, like a literary Benjamin Button. He has always been a good writer, as can be seen from his debut novel No Fireworks, but this collection, alongside his last novel Bring Me The Head of Ryan Giggs, is evidence of someone fizzing with energy, and often anger. Short story collections are sometimes (mistakenly) seen as marking time until the next novel, but in this case Love Sex Travel Music feels transitional, a real step forward from a writer promising to take their fiction to another level altogether. One chapter closes, and the next begins.
1) This is a small point, but I want to share. I can do without footnotes in my fiction, something which seems to be a fashion at the moment, and there are a couple of stories which feature them here. Maybe it’s because I’ve ploughed my way through so many textbooks in my time, but when I read fiction I want to be able to make up my own mind as to what I will research further, and their inclusion brings the writer clattering back into the story. I know I could just ignore them (and I often do), and maybe they stand out more in short stories, but I don’t want the fictional fourth wall being broken in this way. Perhaps that’s a barroom discussion for another day, and it’s one I look forward to having.