Olga Tokarcquk’s Flights won the Booker and the National Book Award and so I figured it had to be good. And it is? No, it is. But it’s strange. In form, mostly. It’s written as a series of fragmented chapters – some no more than a paragraph, others stretching for 20 or 30 pages – all circling one another thematically, but not necessarily, or usually, by plot or character. It’s an exercise in immersion and floating, I’d say, to let go of the usual anchors of the novel and to suspend yourself in something like a mass collection of postcards that you’ve been tasked with assembling into a cogent archive.
At different points I found myself confident I’d nailed down the thematic scope: travelling and journeys and finding the self. And then there was the long chapter on the dissection and preservation of the body, and I thought, no, this is more about stability and permanence. And I suppose it’s both of those things, with most chapters floating around ideas of travel or the stubborn physicality of the body. With other chapters morphing between the two in something like philosophy, or, as one chapter describes it ‘travel psychology’ and the reader is left asking questions about what stays and what goes in the most basic sense of the body, as well as the metaphoric of identity and belonging.
It’s well worth a read, with the caveat well established here that it isn’t like reading other novels in that you’ll have to do away with ideas of continuity. I’ll admit I found this dipping in and out difficult unless I was committing to reading for at least an hour; which is to say, I’d recommend immersion. It’s own kind of challenge in a moment where sustaining interest to read the three paragraphs of this post is a — oh wait, I lost interest and stopped writing.