Release Day Review: A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat by Roe Horvat
I will never know why I came to think of architecture when I first read Roe Horvat’s debut, Layover. Her second novel reinforced the imagery, although I still hadn’t quite found the words to describe it. A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat evokes these same odd images in my head, of abandoned industrial buildings, turned into gentrification hotspots, lofts where the modern bourgeoisie would dwell. Beautiful, yes, bare, absolutely, rough around the edges, most certainly, and that is no critique, even though the words are often used in that manner. I finished Horvat’s third novel with the insanely long title A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat, and once again, I am reminded of these industrial buildings.
But even more so, I’ve been forced to look at my own writing through the same lens, which is, of course, precarious, as one is never unbiased toward one’s own work. Either you think your God’s gift to the pen – or, much more likely – you suffer from imposter syndrome.
Not the ideal judge, eh? I know but bear with me for Roe’s sake…
Still, this seems like a rather harmless exercise, as my subconscious has done the same with other authors dear to me, Phetra H Novak, and Debbie McGowan. All authors I’ve reviewed frequently, and whose work continue to inspire my own writing.
When I think of Phetra’s writing (may she forgive me), I picture an Old Norse great hall, where the Vikings would sit and partake of great feasts, drink mead and tell each other of their stories of conquests. Phetra’s storytelling is rich, meaty, painted in bold strokes, grandiose. She evokes images that are absolutely stunning.
With Debbie, I picture a typical countryside English pub, a good homecooked meal, fish & chips, that sort of thing, a cold (I can’t stomach the warmish stuff) beer, and quiz night. Debbie’s writing is intelligent, well-informed, and educative. Kind of like quiz night and no other author I know evokes vivid images of the English countryside, nobody does descriptions quite like Debbie McGowan. Debbie is the quintessential contemporary English storyteller.
My own writing? I’m reminded of my dad’s work (he was an architect) and his “philosophy” with regards to architecture if you will. Nothing fancy, but rather sturdy, homey, a place where you’re comfortable, traditional even. Straight to the point, practical, nothing out of the ordinary. Seems my dad’s career has had a greater impact on me than I ever could’ve imagined…
See, as I compare those writing styles, I’m drawn back to Roe, and the writing of A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat which shall henceforth be called by his Christian name, Simon. What a bloody long name (brilliant? nuts?). Anyway, there are so many descriptions in that book, of streets in Praha, Heidelberg, meals, psychological disorders etc. Horvat is Czech, so the intimate knowledge about all things Czechia (and Slovakia ) is never in doubt. What really surprises me is the astonishing grasp of the English language, obviously not Horvat’s first, far from given in a country of the former ‘east block’ (as Horvat does mention in the novel at some point.)
I think I’ve said it before, in my review of Dirty Mind:
The mood of Horvat’s writing reflects that. It’s raw, it’s in your face, it’s open, honest to a fault, brutal even at times, but never crossing that line that would make it offensive or off-putting. It’s simply realism at its best.
It is that realism that has me draw parallels to that industrial loft and I won’t exhaust the metaphor because it has limits. So what is this book all about? The title of Simon (yeah, not writing that a third time, fuck off SEO engines!) gives us clues. He’s the sad man, and while I’m not going to give away details or clues, let’s just say this is a psychological novel, an excellent one at that. Horvat is married to a psychiatrist, so I needn’t even double-check the assertions made. Besides, given my limited exposure to psychology, what’s happening seems plausible enough, credible, and – yes – perfectly in tune with the above quote.
I most likely read the book differently than most others. I had a hunch (I’ve been in the industry long enough) where the end would lead, and yes, you could even label this a romance (though, God forbid, not one off the Harlequin branch of the family), but rather a love story, although you’d miss the actual topic of the book (re D). I wish I could’ve seen more of Matéj and Simon, as a couple, not just the coupling, in the end, the obligatory happy ending, because I know, Roe and I have spoken about this on several occasions, her writing doesn’t require a happy ending. However, and I have no reason to doubt it given what I know about Simon, that he needs it. More importantly, he deserves it (don’t we all?). Given the story of how this novel came to be (for Roe to tell you), that is all I need.
If you haven’t read a book by Roe Horvat, now’s your chance. I order you to! Pick one up, any of them. Read them, cherish them. This is an author destined for greatness. These first three stories we’ve seen this year are astounding works of art, fine literature, and I personally feel privileged to have been able to follow the development of this amazing talent from up close. Now go forth and buy A Love Song for the Sad Man in the White Coat, releasing today from Beaten Track Publishing.
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