Appointment in Samarra by John O’Hara
Appointment in Samarra was published in 1934 and is described in the LA Times article Rediscovering John O’Hara as one of the finest novels of the 1930’s. The same article talks about the genius of the book as being “in its rendering of these small details, the way Julian’s unraveling takes place in increments, each irrevocable but also, somehow, conscious, a sequence of bad decisions that leave him nowhere to turn.” According to wikipedia O’Hara was “particularly known for an uncannily accurate ear for dialogue, was a keen observer of social status and class differences, and wrote frequently about the socially ambitious.”
The novel is about a socialite, country club going gentleman named Julian English who, over the course of 3 days, systematically destroys his life through a number of impulsive and reckless acts which end in his suicide. The title of the novel is said to come from a fable about a servant in Baghdad who is sent to the market by a his master the merchant and returns completely shaken. When the merchant asks the servant what is wrong he tells of being jostled by a woman who he recognised as Death and who made a threatening gesture to him. The servant then borrows the merchant’s horse and flees to Samarra about 125km away where he believes Death will not find him. The merchant then goes to the market where he finds Death and asks her why she made the threatening gesture to which she replies; “That was not a threatening gesture, it was only a start of surprise. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
O’Hara did for fictional Gibbsville, Pennsylvania, what Faulkner did for Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi: surveyed its social life and drew its psychic outlines. But he did it in utterly worldly terms, without Faulkner’s taste for mythic inference or the basso profundo of his prose. Julian English is a man who squanders what fate gave him. He lives on the right side of the tracks, with a country club membership and a wife who loves him. His decline and fall, over the course of just 72 hours around Christmas, is a matter of too much spending, too much liquor and a couple of reckless gestures. (Now Julian, don’t throw that drink in the well-connected Irishman’s face. Don’t make that pass at the gangster’s mistress.) That his calamity is petty and preventable only makes it more powerful. In Faulkner the tragedies all seem to be taking place on Olympus, even when they’re happening among the lowlifes. In O’Hara they could be happening to you. (read on GoodReads)
Have you read this novel? What are your thoughts on it?