Pedro Juan Guti?ez' literary prowl through the streets of Havana contains just about all of these. Here, his drunken, hustling anti-hero, at 50, is a little older than in Dirty Havana Trilogy, the first novel in the series, but he is no less partial to a few shots of cheap rum and a spot of sweaty nymphomania. In Pedro Juan's world, sex is everywhere: hard, cruel, bleary-eyed, dangerous sex (this book starts with a rape scene). There are orgies in the park, there's masturbation on the roof, there are prostitutes on corners and steamy quickies against the Malec?Havana's famous sea-wall). Guti?ez, it seems, has an inexhaustible supply of salacious scenarios and outrageous characters, and he flashes them before our eyes with such churning speed that it's difficult to digest.His female characters are fiery yet compliant, written with a perplexing mix of compassion and chauvinism. Her control of her material is absolute and the glassy surfaces of her heroine's interpretations of the world are rendered with consummate skill and, at times, startling humour. Leaving Home investigates with subtlety and understanding important questions that are almost entirely avoided elsewhere - in conversation, in life, in art.Just how do you continue in a life that does not feel viable, and negotiate days that are filled with despair; not the heightened, dramatic, literary variety but the quiet, quotidian, shameful, relentless kind? How do you shape your experiences into some sort of coherent existence when it feels as though you have not a single resource in your heart to guide you?Susie Boyt's latest novel, 'Only Human', is published in paperback by Review next month Buy any book reviewed on this site at - postage and packing are free in the UK. "The unconscious had a complete network installed: I only had to be patient and all would be revealed," she explains.The terror that lies behind Emma's flawed modus operandi is brilliantly evoked by Brookner's spare and devastating prose.
Emma's mother's belief that sadness is "only bearable if left undisturbed", it transpires, has passed down to her daughter intact. That little five-word motto chills as a sort of life-long declaration and guarantee of despair.The powerful tension at the heart of Leaving Home lies in Emma's desire to escape her own life, to "save" it in some large way, and an even stronger sense that she has no choices and that nothing will ever change. The Paris episodes occasionally hint at future possibilities, but it is the provisional, temporary nature of a life lived between two places that Emma really seems to crave.Anita Brookner is an unflinching novelist who writes beautifully and fearlessly about subjects that other writers leave well alone. Happiness, when located in another, is posed in almost deathly terms as an "absence of longing" and a "state of steady satisfaction".
The avoidance of some sort of collapse is Emma's chief travelling aim.Her friendships in France are hardly satisfactory: precise misalliances, chosen for their lack of intimacy and communication.A grasping young librarian called Fran?se becomes important to Emma, her deceits and stratagems prized because they seem lively and real.The minute ties Emma forms are all low-key and unemotional, and valued as such. One of the moments of strongest feeling occurs when Emma glimpses her friend Phillip's son sleeping naked, his arms "flung out" in an upstairs room, and grieves that a sleep with that sort of depth and passion will never belong in a life like hers.Yet Emma's fidelity to a life slightly lived is all-pervasive; almost a religion. Her mother longed for an "ideal life that would not betray her", but Emma's hopes are of a far narrower realm. The pursuit of joy is as alien to her singular psychology as a trip to Mars.