It would be untrue to call Leonard Michaels’s Sylvia a pleasant book – set in 1960s New York, it tells the story of a young Jewish couple’s troubled relationship, from its beginning through to its highly unsettling end. And yet, without being pleasant, the book is invariably a pleasure to read. The prose is striking. For Michaels, the act of reading a newspaper evokes ‘The odour of fresh newsprint, an oily film on my fingertips, mixed with cigarette smoke and the taste of coffee. Pages turned and crackled like fire, or like breaking bones.’ New York is captured with the lyricism and energy of the era, as the author recounts its ‘visionary contagion’ and the ‘weird delirium … in the air, and in the sluggish, sensual bodies’.
As David Lodge outlines in his foreword, Sylvia made its first appearance in 1990, as a short story. A novella-length version was published two years later in the United States, but until now it has not appeared