Title: Speedboat

Author: Renata Alder

Year: 1976

Genre: Post Modern

Speedboat is a 1976 novel written by Renata Alder and is one of the short classics on my list from Pinterest which I intended to read and is one of the more recent examples on the list.

Initially the title Speedboat did put me off the book as it doesn’t really say an awful lot about what it was about but when I did some background reading I was very interested in the book. Renata Alder was working as a journalist and she used many of those experiences in her life as a journalist in this book and though it is fictional it is in some places semi-autobiographical.

The main character, Jen Fain is a young journalist in 1970s New York and the book recounts her life and to be totally honest that is really all that I can say about the book in terms of plot.

If I could use a word to describe my reaction to this book it would be Marmite as I genuine can’t work out if I like it or not.

The book is written in a way which I’ve seen described as “proto-blog” and I think that description is very apt as the book moves from scenes, encounters and pictures with very little coherence or connection between them and reads almost as a series of blog posts although occasionally some stories get picked up again throughout the novel, for example Jen visits an island I believe in the Caribbean and describes meeting the Queen and I think this writing style will either be loved or hated. 

I did level a similar criticism at the stream of consciousness style of writing in Mrs. Dalloway and The Old Man and The Sea which I struggle although I do feel it works slightly better here as each scene has a clear line break which moves between them.

Also my edition contained an introduction by the writer Hilton Als and he mentions how the book is loved by journalists and describes very much a journalists lifestyle and I do feel this comes across in the book as it seems to jump around as I imagine journalists report on many different news stories as and when they occur and therefore there reference points for things can be very wide ranging.

However it is a style which I do think some readers will struggle to get into and at times I feel it jumps a bit too much and maybe an overarching story would’ve improved it for me. In writing that, Jen’s pregnancy at the end does make me wonder if this is the reason the book is written in this way as she is trying to connect her old identity as a journalist with her soon to be new identity as a mother and trying to come to terms with that.

Many of the stories themselves are also sharply written and there are plenty of observations which do still stand the test of time today. For example, one story recounts a time Jen was sent to a hospital where a patient died and he is said to have “joked with his nurses” before he died and Jen says “What a mine of humour every nurse’s life must be.” which I think is so funny in how we often say those kind of things today.

The book does also unfortunately have some offensive language, for example Jen refers to black people as “the blacks” quite a few times in the novel and also words such as “sissy” and comments about homosexuality which obviously dates the book but does present 1970s New York very vividly.

Overall I think the book does have some moments to enjoy as long as you can be open-minded to a very unique and sometimes testing structure and understand the book is of it’s time in certain parts.

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