Last Stop Salina Cruzis the debut novel of David Lale and tells two linked narratives. The first is that of Arthur Cravan, nephew of Oscar Wilde and Dada-ist poet, boxer, con-man and fabulist, follows his journey through Europe and finally to South America at tetime of the First World War, seeking to escape the draft causing scandal and outrage en route. The second story, told in the first person, is of a nameless young man who leaves his pregnant girlfriend, without even saying goodbye, and sets off to retrace Cravan’s footsteps almost a century later. The young man has become obsessed by Cravan and, like him, is also seeking to escape. Exactly what he is escaping his unclear. There are hints that he has committed some crime and that the police may be after him (although they never are), or that he is suffering from a mental illness, going back to his childhood. Perhaps he is simply running away from conformity? Cravan finally disappeared in the sea off Salina Cruz and is presumed to have drowned. The young man is heading to the very spot in order to commit suicide.
The two stories are told in very different styles. The Cravan narrative reads at times like a straightforward history book, whilst the second narrative like a personal journal. At times the styles jar a little and I found myself not getting as fully involved with the Cravan narrative as I might have, but ultimately the strength of the writing carried me through.
There is, in fact, a third narrative. The novel is interspersed with a series of black and white photographs. They come with no explanation and seem to be random photographs of nothing in particular. And yet they clearly relate to the places that are currently being written about in the two main narratives, suggesting that David Lale, himself, has also completed the journey in the process of writing the novel and that these images are his story.
I had just one problem with this book and that was that both Cravan and the young man are completely unlikeable characters. They are both selfish egotists who treat everybody else appallingly badly and I was left not caring what happened to them and even resenting time spent in their company. Of course, novels do not have to have likeable characters, but this pair were so unforgiveably awful that it was the quality of the writing alone that grabbed my attention and kept me engaged.