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Jolts: Fernando Sdrigotti

by J. C. Greenway
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Fernando Sdrigotti Jolts review book cover
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I loved Fernando Sdrigotti’s short story Jolts when it appeared in 3am Magazine in 2015. Now five years have whipped by and it was a treat to have the collection named Jolts arrive in the mail via an Influx Press subscription. The original short story with its jolting between memories of time spent in London, Rosario and Paris is the first story in the collection. As a train stops outside Clapham Junction, pictures crowd in of friends left behind, mixed with news stories, publishing rejections and a woman who left, before going back to childhood. All the short stories are about the disconnect between places, when where you live now doesn’t match where you are from or where you grew up and contend with how to live while your head is being bounced back and forth between them.

From socialising above your pay grade in Turkish Delight, to the especially overheated Christmas shopping hell in Methylated Spirits, to chats in the off-licence or kebab shop in Only Up Here and living dangerously by drinking with your landlady, the stories in Jolts show Fernando Sdrigotti’s perceptive eye for modern London life. There is a recurring line about a poetry chapbook in Barbecue and Exhumation in Victoria Park Village that had me roaring but was also FAR TOO REAL. Another reality of London living – the threat of economic precariousness – is never far away.

I left with most of my money in my pocket; not that they would ever notice – they could never get the till right. And then I felt like I owned the world, that I could go anywhere. London was finally smiling at me: no more bar jobs, no more mopping the floor, collecting pints, long shifts serving entitled drunken wankers. The beginning of a new era; a new me; then it was already the future and the future of that future was full of promises. The high lasted for a couple of hours. Soon I realised I was unemployed. And I hit the bed. I must have been in bed for five days.

The stories in Jolts also escape from London, as hopes for work in tourism or translation dwindle over the kitchen sink in a Dublin pub, or an awkward afternoon passes with sort-of friends in a nowhere town in The Kid and the Telephone Box. Something About This Summer and The Summer Last Year features a holiday in the years before leaving, before perhaps the ultimate jolt: the long-delayed trip back to Argentina of Notes Towards a Return. If airports are liminal spaces, thresholds between segments of our lives, then so are memories in Sdrigotti’s writing, leaving the wanderer and the reader with the unsettling feeling of never being anywhere at once, necessarily remaining detached because you are never sure how long you will be staying there. For the narrators of these stories, that disjointed feeling is often smoothed over with drink and drugs, creating a quick intimacy with people that may hardly be remembered this time next year.

It can be tempting to look back on life and see patterns or have a sense of moving forwards, but the way memories operate and the way the stories are arranged in Jolts doesn’t allow for that comfort.

I’m waiting in the departures lounge, Ezeiza airport. I tell myself that I will be back before the end of the year, that this time I’ll make the effort to go back home, not to an ideal or imaginary place, but to the only place I really left behind, to whoever still speaks to me there, to my mother’s house, my childhood things, the books I wish I hadn’t read, the places where I used to spend my time. Of course, I won’t.

I read the original version of the story called Jolts in 2015 after spending around five years living outside my home country and loved it for its capturing of the way my thoughts jolted, sometimes uncomfortably so, between locations. Fernando Sdrigotti is a writer that I also truly love for capturing London as I lived and messed around in it during the 90s and 00s, although he seems to like the dirty old place a lot more than I ended up doing: telling 3am Magazine he needs London ‘like a fish needs the water.’ Jolts is a great read and I’m sure I won’t be waiting another five years before reading more from this sharply perceptive writer.

Jolts is the second book I’ve read and reviewed for the 20 Books of Summer ’20 challenge – how is your summer reading going? Let me know in the comments…

UK readers can buy a copy of Jolts from an independent bookshop near you via this affiliate link. This site may earn a small commission if you do.

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