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Sparrow Nights

by David Gilmour

David Gilmour’s latest novel may not win him a pack of new readers, but his fans will think it just fine. Sparrow Nights covers some perennial Gilmour themes – male desire and unrequited sexual obsession – and features a familiar scenario. Like the earlier How Boys See Girls, the new novel sets an aging sad sack’s lament for an absent lover against a backdrop of Toronto nightlife.

The sad sack here is Darius Halloway, a 50-ish professor of French literature who’s recovering from an affair with a vivacious grad student. Emma Carpenter had enthralled Darius sexually and shared his life and home for three years before abruptly splitting. Now Darius seeks solace in antidepressant pills and casual sex. And, increasingly, in mischief. A running gag has Darius responding to minor neighbourhood annoyances – a flag flapping in the wind, say – with vandalism and worse.

Readers with delicate sensibilities may feel vandalized themselves by Darius’s earthy take on relationships. Like previous Gilmour narrators, this one views sex as equal parts transcendence and grit – with the latter greatly contributing to the former. (A quintessential Gilmour line: “For a while, as long as I could smell her on my hands, I felt better.”)

Still, it’s hard to dislike the novel’s wry and self-deprecating voice. Sharply written throughout, Darius’s escapades are decorated with potent one-liners: “You could see her mind shuffling strange cards into a new hand.” An affectionate portrait of downtown Toronto also contributes to the novel’s charm.

The narrative engine, though, betrays some flaws as it revs toward the climax. Most of the book is episodic, a leisurely accumulation of anecdotes. But with a late detour into film noir territory – a run-in with a criminal, a burst of violence – the action suddenly feels rushed, and the tone shift jars. None of this erases the readerly goodwill already built up, but the novel’s finale is less than wholly satisfying.