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James Salter: "People have reflected on the quality of time ever since they’ve been writing"

The Books Interview.

The language in All That Is is starker and simpler compared to your previous novels, such as Light Years.
I made a little effort in this book not to be so rich in language. I thought I’d like to take the focus off the language a little bit and let it rest on what is being described and what is happening, that’s all.

You seem preoccupied with the way your characters move and shift through time. What are you exploring?
Well, we’re at the mercy of it, in a way. People have reflected on the quality of time ever since they’ve been writing. I suppose I have thought about and written about the question of living in the present – but it only lasts for an instant and then everything becomes the past. The future, you know nothing about, except for some anticipations you have. You’re living in constant movement. You can’t do anything about it and, even when you’re happy, it’s all going past you.

You move through decades at speed.
I just thought we’ll skip those years here and there – nothing much happened. I didn’t want to write The Forsyte Saga or a romance, one of these long books, welldetailed about a particular life. I thought I would take a somewhat freer approach.

Your work is rich in sensual detail. What draws you to the surfaces of things?
I think it’s like place. Unless you’re making up some novel that has no reality at all, you’d better go to that place and know something about it. The reality comes out of the details. Everything that defined it; what it looked like, felt like, smelled like; its names.

Did flying shape your writing?
I would say it’s a very exhilarating life, the flying , but philosophically I don’t know. As an influence, I’m unable to detect it. I have perhaps a little more fatalistic attitude as a result but honestly that would be all.

James Salter’s “All That Is” is published by Picador (£18.99)

Sophie Elmhirst is features editor of the New Statesman

This article first appeared in the 10 June 2013 issue of the New Statesman, G0