Home > fiction, I read it all, novel, recommended > Songs From The Other Side Of The Wall: Dan Holloway

Songs From The Other Side Of The Wall: Dan Holloway

May 20, 2010

The day the Berlin Wall came down, Jennifer returned to England, leaving her week-old daughter, Szandi, to grow up on a Hungarian vineyard with 300 years of history. Now 18, Szandi is part of Budapest’s cosmopolitan art scene, sharing a flat and a bohemian lifestyle with her lover and fellow sculptress, Yang. She has finally found a place in the world. Then a letter arrives that threatens everything, and forces her to choose once and for all: between the past and the present; between East and West; between her family and her lover.

Quirky, contemporary, and ultra-cool; sensuous, seductive, and heartbreaking: Songs from the Other Side of the Wall is a coming of age story that inhabits anti-capitalists chatrooms and ancient wine cellars, seedy bars and dreaming spires; and takes us on a remarkable journey across Europe and cyberspace in the company of rock stars and dropouts, diaries that appear from nowhere, a telepathic fashion mogul, and the talking statue of a bull.

I found a few things to criticise in the production of this book: its cover image is far too low-resolution to work well; its front-matter and end-matter are jumbled and unfocused and so fail to do their jobs properly; but the typesetting of the main text is elegant and spacious and very readable, which immediately set it apart from most of the books I have looked at for this blog. Some of the characters used in the italic fonts were overly heavy and so distracting, and really should be corrected; but that’s a tiny thing which I hope will be resolved in subsequent editions of this book.

And now onto the really important stuff.

Dan Holloway writes with a wistful, writerly tone which he handles with great skill. However, he hasn’t edited this book rigorously enough and so at times his writing is overly complex or descriptive (or both), which drags down his pacing. He risks losing his readers’ attention because of this which would be a shame: but it could be easily fixed if he could force himself to be a more ruthless editor. I would also like to see more variation in tone: while wistful is good it can get rather wearying if it’s not lightened occasionally with joy or laughter of some kind, and I wonder if this is something that Dan might find more difficult to fix.

Please don’t think that I’m dismissing Songs From The Other Side Of The Wall: I’m not. Despite my criticisms I think that this is a lovely book written in that rare thing: beautiful, lyrical prose. Dan Holloway is a writer of talent and great potential who we should hear more from. I read it all and recommend it.

  1. May 21, 2010 at 9:25 pm

    Jane, thank you so much. I will respond in as much detail as I can. all your points are, as I would expect, helpful. As you know, I form my thoughts best by burbling – so I shall burble, not to be argumentative but for rumination's sake.- front and end matter are thoroughly and ruthlessly amended in the current edition – I'll send you a copy.- yes, the "y" looks like it's had an extra coat of paint, doesn't it. Likewise, amended.- the tone variation is something I am aware of in my writing – I work at it within chapters very hard. Within the book as a whole? Hmm, I really need to think. Not that I don't do it – I don't particularly, I know (I have characters rather than tonal breaks – Camus the cat, Peter, and a couple of band members, but they are quirky not differently toned, and I KNOW that comes from the amount of contemporary Japanese fiction I was reading at the time. I DID have variation in there, with little counterpoints of extreme violence in a subplot about Hungarian Nationalism that was ultimately excised. I genuinely think for this book I want to keep the flat tone, because that's how she is (I am afraid, I know I joke, but I don't think there is a place in the book for "joy" – the ending is absoluetly joyous [to me] but on its own terms – or maybe not on its own terms. For all I talk about how I structured it around Norwegian Wood, the actual structural and tonal influence is Kieslowski's Three Colours:Blue, and its ending. I just can't see Szandi laughig, other than intimately with Yang, and I feel like I'd be letting my readers down if I forced it into her.) which brings to the complexity thing. I wrestle with complexity. If you mean what I think you mean I totally understand – there are lots of locations for a short book, and huge swathes of politics going on as a backdrop, and the question is how much to keep and how much to cut in order to convey the time and place, and the contrast between Szandi and her mother/father. The actual sentencecraft – it has become very clear SINCE writing Songs that I both write and edit for sound and rhythm ahead of sense. This is a BAD thing. It can make writing purple. Worse still, it can take the lyricism of a beautiful sentence and lose it in a mire of triple chocolate pudding syndrome.Where now with Songs? I really oscillate. 90% of the time I feel it is irretrievable, and that the only way is forward. I've finished a novel, a full-length poem and an anthoogy since I finished it, which have worked through exactly the issues you rightly point to. Other times I think maybe they could be worked on within the book itself and that there is something in it worth salvaging, but they are very rare. Like all writers, I guess, I find my own writing hard to like. No, that's wrong. I like it. I actually enjoy reading it. I find it impossible to value, though. I have a feeling you would say that's a reason to go the traditional route, but I don' get the people who want to be published for affirmation – I would just feel like I was perpetuating a lie. It's why I believe so passionately in the "freemium" and live performance model. I want people to be exposed to my work, but I only want them to buy it if they know they like it.Anyway, burble over, thank you SO much for taking the time with this. I agree with your points – except the joy/laughter one (no, I agree it may make the book more readable, but for me that's not the point if it means betraying my character) – wholeheartedly. The question is whether to tackle them here, or in my WIP.

  2. May 22, 2010 at 4:22 pm

    Dan, take this review like a trophy– it's one of the best ones that I've ever seen in my months lurking about on this blog. Congrats!

  3. May 23, 2010 at 4:45 pm

    Thank you. I most certainly will, and I want to squeeze every last thing I can forom the points Jane has made to make sure the books that follow make new mistakes instead of old ones, and keep going forward.

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