a thousand miles away

a review of Stewart O’Nan’s West of Sunset

Change is the only constant in West of Sunset: from Scott’s short-lived scripts to the stars’ ageing faces, the whole world seems fated to fade away. Some of O’Nan’s most suggestive passages conjure the feeling of freefall that can accompany uncontrollable change. Scott’s drunken blackouts are represented by sudden accelerations of narrative pace. In one sentence he’s ordering a double gin; in the next he’s “sprawled on someone’s wet lawn”. Like him, we’re left struggling to fill in the blanks. Later, he reflects on the “strangeness” of flying: “stepping through a door in one place, sitting still for a few hours, then stepping out a thousand miles away”. As the novel develops, O’Nan makes sure that we share this sense of disorientation – feeling, with Scott, the ground giving way beneath our feet. Consequently, when he wishes for his time with Sheilah “to last, and this new life, impossibly, to be his”, we feel the poignancy of that “impossibly”.

read the review in The Guardian