The Summer Abroad – Ivan Brave

‘It surprised me how wasted I was and how early it seemed. Half of Italy in one day, how much had we skipped? And yet we continued to blaze through.’

81UYsTIDaEL._AC_UY218_ML3_Apologies in advance for the brevity of this review – it’s down to the all-consuming day job, I’m afraid, but I have finally made time to read this debut novel which has been languishing in the TBR pile for too long.

Set largely in Europe, this is an exhilarating and often suitably chaotic sweep of a young man’s travels through Europe before he has to accept adulthood and get a job. Accompanied by two friends, our young Texan protagonist takes in all the major cities, seeking love, diversions and recreational drugs in a narrative that borders on the picaresque. There’s some beautiful prose here at times, and the narrative voice is a heady mix of the teenage and the poetic. I was reminded of Ginsberg and co., particularly when Brave gets going and his hero is travelling through the landscape,

‘…losing air as my throat tightened inside the kink of my neck to look up at Rick, strapped backpack, fast as hell, zoom zoom.’

Characterisation is fairly fleeting, but this approach works in this novel, capturing as it does the transitory nature of travel –  and whilst it can feel impressionistic as Mikhail moves from one setting to the next, there are characters who stand out. One of these is Charlie, a traveller the boys meet in Praha. Charlie is older and seemingly in exile whilst his pregnant wife waits to give birth at home. When Mikhail asks him how to travel alone, Charlie advises him to ‘be adventurous’ – a good summing up of this intriguing novel, I feel.

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