A Sport and a Pastime by James Salter


It would be fair to say that melancholy ruminations upon first love and sexual awakening are not exactly an under-represented genre in literary fiction. That said, what makes the unnamed narrator of James Salter's early masterpiece, A Sport and a Pastime, a rather more intriguing prospect is the fact that the most significant love affair of his life happened to someone else. Through the recollections of its aforementioned narrator, Salter's novel tells the story of a torrid affair between Anne-Marie, a poor young French woman, and Phillip Dean, a charming but arrogant young American, amidst the backdrop of early 60s Paris. In a voice tinged with loss and frustrated desire, Salter's narrator viscerally recalls each detail of the affair... including those he could never have been present for. This blend of forensic recollection laced self-consciously fictional elements makes the book more than a simple tale of doomed love; indeed, at its best this brilliant novel offers an insightful examination into the way memory falls prey to the inevitable distortions of a certain kind of romantic fiction.

Salter is often described as a 'writer's writer', but don't let that put you off. There is nothing precious about these glorious sentences, at once so effortlessly beguiling, and so deeply resonant. Read this book and you will immediately want to search out and savour every one of Salter's novels. This is as good a place as any to start.

 - Dan