School of Velocity
Unusually for me, I finished School of Velocity, all 224 pages of straightforward prose, where each word is as important as a note on a staff, in one sitting, a tribute to the author’s dexterous handling of the potential minefield of music as overarching metaphor in fiction.
But Rubin wears his knowledge of classical music lightly, with the expertise of Tom Wolfe incorporating space technology in The Right Stuff, so that fiction is so deftly embroidered by fact that pianist Jan de Vries, who is in the prime of his career when a major setback occurs, could be mistaken for a genuine Columbia recording hopeful.
That he isn’t is due to Rubin’s skill in making the music and its colourful appendage of descriptions and definitions a slave to the story, which, though decades pass, is suffused by the presence, real and imagined, of the mercurial Dirk Noosen, whose walk-on role during Jan’s lonely adolescence is a shadow which long outlives the light which spawned it.
Dirk, who gets the best dialogue, is not as fully fleshed out as Jan, for it is unlikely that the narrative arc, especially when the latter is crippled by auditory hallucinations and his career as a performing artist suffers, could have borne the weight of both. So we see the charismatic and mysterious Dirk through the eyes of Jan, with whom we are on intimate terms, because he is as self-revelatory as Karl Ove Knausgaard.
Brilliantly but tactfully, as we revisit the pianist’s bitter-sweet memories of unresolved encounters with his adolescent soulmate, Rubin strips the gloss from Dirk for the reader long before Jan sees the woods for the trees.
Or does he? Is it the author’s intention that the profligate Dirk is a Dutch Sebastian Flyte to the aesthetic Jan’s Charles Ryder, where whatever once bound them together is never clearly defined. After all, one swallow does not a summer make.
Luminously unfolded until the surprising denouement, this is a novel about the repercussions of repression and a lifetime of regret, and the volatility of revisiting unanswered questions and unspoken passions.