I’ve a confession to make: I judged a book by its cover. And, what a cover…
Published by Salt, Vault: An Anti-Novel has got the sort of boldness written all over its face that, if its contents failed to deliver similarly, would just be a downright waste. Thankfully, it doesn’t disappoint.
The debut novel by David Rose — a man who’s traversed the British literary scene for the last two decades, with the Literary Review, Guardian and Main Street Journal, among others, on his CV — is ostensibly a thriller. It’s also an anti-novel, playing with the reader and what it is to be a narrator — and an unreliable one, too.
Its hero, or anti-hero, is an amateur cyclist; his journey is truncated by the outbreak of war in Europe. He’s quickly enlisted and trained as a sniper, entrenched in war with all its misery and, somewhat predictably, emerges from the ordeal lost. Unfortunately for him, a turn of events compels him to take part in a new kind of conflict: the Cold War.
Pretty heavy stuff — an epoch away from the simple life he yearns for, riding his bike in peace.
It’s precisely this peace, however, which is to permanently elude our protagonist. On his return, he discovers that his life story has been effectively stolen by a novelist — of all people. Such brazen poetic licence is simply too much for him to take, leaving us, the reader, with a glorious hybrid narrative; one seemingly ‘authentic’, and the other, according to its subject, in dire need of correction.
Over the course of 168 pages of magnificently measured prose — indeed, if ever there were a literary equivalent to Frank Sinatra’s timing and panache, David Rose is it — Vault tracks one man’s mission to re-claim his life and, also, death.
Across a lunar plain a dot is moving, weaving and skidding around the crumbling track, skirting rain-filled potholes flaring in the lurid light. Its speed from this height is difficult to estimate. From a lower perspective it would seem to average twenty mph, allowing for the detours. From a yet lower point of view, ground level from the rear, it is silhouetted against the flat horizon. Despite the swerves the legs maintain a piston rhythm below the hump. As the road twists we see it side on, just make out in the slanted sun the spokes, their sparkle dulled by dust carefully smoothed onto axle grease. The hump doubles, separates, as we distinguish haversack from spine. Drop handlebars like downturned horns. The road turns back and it is headed into the quenching sun. The streaming clouds lidding down the last rays are smoke-smudged in places, until they merge completely with the dust haze in the south. Occasionally, with retarded noise, the haze is added to by discrete plumes, bursts of dust in the middle distance. They do not impede the pace of the cyclist…
Vault’s a wonderful book that demands rereading on completion, written with such control that you’d be forgiven for thinking its author had a dozen novels just like it stuffed in a drawer somewhere, just waiting for someone to hunt them down. I was lucky enough to discover Vault when it came out, back in April, and I felt then like I’d just located a big, gleaming white ‘X’ on the barren sands of mainstream publishing — where courage, bravery and risk are frowned on, even derided.
Published as it is by a tiny press — and having been greeted thus far with the only thing that can kill a book: silence – Vault has ‘cult’ written all over it. Which is a shame — not just for Salt and David Rose, but for all of us.
Gavin James Bower is a writer and editor. His second novel, Made in Britain, is out now (Quartet Books)