Little remains of the glamour of Setton, once the Noth-East's premier pleasure resort. The Spanish City is boarded up; its famous Charleston roller coaster turning rapidly to rust. Only in Moscadini's ice-cream parlour, with its glowing mural of an arcadian coastline, is there a hint of its former glory. It is here that the world-weary teacher Hal Price is brought by his teenage kidnappers to meet a ghost. As the snow falls outside and Hal relives the memories of his dancing days, he tells the boys a story - a tale of wartime dreams and peacetime disappointments, of love, betrayal, death and resurrection. Sarah May's fictional worlds are comic and macabre, lyrical and violent. In this second novel, she applies her unique vision to the boom and bust of post-war England to create a romantic fable as heart-stopping as the Charleston Coaster itself. (2002-10-18)
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Sarah May's first novel, The Nudist Colony, won her huge plaudits. With not a sign of that incapacitating blight--second-novel jitters--she's written another wonder in Spanish City. Distinguished by daring invention and large-heartedness in her plotting and characterisation, she turns her tale of lost hopes, loves, expectations, into a work of immense readability. Glancing actions and unexpected exchanges, often just off centre or out of reach, reverberate like seismic shifts.
It's circa-1960s Setton, a seedy North Sea town that's seen better days: its pleasure palace, Spanish City, is boarded up, its roller coaster rusting. Only the ice-cream parlour, Moscadini's, at the other end of town, struggles on. Hal Price lives in the same house he's been in all his life; he teaches in the same school that staunched his early ambitions ("What do you think you are, Price? A free man?" ... "He knew that after this he would start every day of his life, not with breakfast, but with this conversation between Fitts and himself.") So joining up and being shipped off to Normandy--to "Rat Castle"--at war's end had seemed the only thing to do. There he'd met Stella, who'd emerged from the sea like Aphrodite and who, Hal realised, "had no regard for tragedy and no intention of ever understanding it". What she does understand is what Hal can't quite achieve: "you need to lose your sense of gravity ... exchange real time for air time ... Sensation can be pure, Hal." Now he's almost resigned to playing the cat each year in the Christmas pantomime. But after this year's panto he's kidnapped by two young brothers, Victor and Will, and taken to Moscadini's where his past takes hold--especially his sense of the elusive Stella. She had been spirited away from "Rat Castle" by Major Delavel, Setton's reclusive toff, but had abandoned him only to turn up, years later, in Setton to tell Hal: "I didn't come here because of Spanish City. I came here so that you could find me." Spanish City, permeated by the intoxication of lost and found, found and lost, lingers hauntingly with suggestive mystery. --Ruth Petrie
'Spanish City has a febrile charm…' -- Big Issue
‘May’s achievements in this book are mildly miraculous. She is, unlike many of her peers, a novelist through and through…' -- Independent on Sunday
‘Sarah May writes very good prose. Her Descriptive skills are excellent and she has a wonderfully observant eye for detail’ -- Independent
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