Book Review: Leaving London by Garry Crystal


I don’t make books reviews often but when I pick up something I like, I can’t help but type away.

The song No Surprises makes its presence felt throughout the new novel by Garry Crystal, called Leaving London. But 9781497458994_p0_v2_s260x420there are many songs that will suit this unique story. It is labeled as anti-romance. I guess for me it is more of a ‘reality bites’ kind of story only you don’t see Winona Ryder or Ethan Hawk hugging or kissing at the end of the book. That is Hollywood bullshit. This is real life.

I brought out my collections of digital as well as physical records reading through the chapters. I can’t help but be reminded of the things that happened to me. In the story, the main character by the name of Cal experiences a sort of awakening. He just broke up with a girl and is now attracted to his friend Sofia but something gets in the way. He navigates  through the crazy and busy London and in the end, fed up with everything, he winds up in New York. Yes this book is about relationships. Those relationships are ephemeral. That we are either doomed to repeat our mistakes or protect ourselves with walls, not out of fear but as a sort of silent dignity. There are also many characters that animate this beautiful story. And maybe some of them make a brief appearance but they make a lasting impression.

The story is also a story about meeting of minds and insights into why people find other people attractive:
( Page 188)People who have been badly hurt in the past, a hurt that has left a long – term damage, can usually recognize those who have been in similar situations or who have been through some form of pain simply by looking at the eyes. It’s al there, a sadness that shows through.

There are many passages that I find beautiful and I find myself getting back to them just to read the prose and how they resonate with important points in my life. Garry Crystal creates an atmosphere in his situations. This is what I love about Leaving London (Page 280) My birth month, October, is my favorite month of the year or at least it would be if I was forced to choose one. It’s probably the freshness in the air I like, not too hot and not exactly freezing yet, just comfortable.

It is worth noting that this book is filled with references to great bands. (Page 293) In the weeks before my ex headed out the door she played a few songs repeatedly with lyrics I should have picked on. All I Wanna’ Do Is Have Some Fun by Sheryl Crowe and Need a Little Time by The Beautiful South were being played daily but I still didn’t picked up on the glaring obvious.

There are more passages that I love revisiting. I know I didn’t really review the book based on the story (the plot etc) but more on why it is an enjoying read based on style. Maybe like music, I am not the type who pays much attention to the lyrics but rather the texture and the arrangement. To me Leaving London is a lengthy love letter to the anti romantics. It’s like a message in a bottle. And this message has reached an audience. I am hoping it reaches more readers out there. This could be a confessional but only Garry Crystal writes it with grace and intensity.

The Last Busker in London and Other London Tales by Garry Crystal

Garry Crystal

Garry Crystal

Every author has a certain style in writing that makes him or her identifiable from the rest. Just like in music. You know exactly what band is playing because of a certain sound they have. The Last Busker in London and Other London Tales is a beautiful introduction to the writing style of Scottish author Garry Crystal. Reading Crystal’s prose is like flipping through the journal of someone even though you were told not to spy. He makes each of his stories so personal and believable it feels like you are reading the work of someone you know. And sometimes, you feel as if you are reading about the scenes in your life you dare not wish to tell someone.

This collection  starts with the story of the same title. Here, Cal(written in the first person as most of his stories are) takes a drinking spree on a Christmas eve only to end up in a terrible fate involving three crooks. It is both a cautionary tale and as an excursion into the fact why we sometimes do things that in the end will destroy us. Here, Cal muses about illusion of happiness we sometimes cloak our lives, while deep inside we are really sad: ” The disease only becomes terminal when you don’t realize you are alone and you become used to the silence and look forward to it when you get home at night.”

Crystal  has his stories always surrounded by interesting characters. In Sunrise in the City, Cal meets a friend who gets him into trouble, dumps the car and then runs away leaving him to fend for himself. Crystal’s tone is unapologetic, even brutal but always reflective. He describes every emotional scar we all experience as a sort of cautionary tale. Sometimes as a release.

The Last Busker in London and Other London Tales is something I can read again and again, just to remind me how dull life is without the zany characters around us. And also to remember that in the heart of our quiet desperation lies a seed. And that seed is an art in which Garry Crystal has polished and made beautiful.

My big thanks to Dean Walker for recommending and giving me this beautiful gem of a book. It’s also my Christmas gift!

The Drugs Don’t Work by The Verve is one of the songs that appeared in the book.

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