It is eight years since Delia Falconer published her successful début novel, The Service of Clouds. Eight years is a long time. It took James Joyce eight years to write Ulysses (1922). Eight years is one year longer than Joseph Heller laboured over Catch-22 (1961) and about six years longer than it took George Eliot to knock out Middlemarch (1871-72). Of course, when Falconer’s new novel is set alongside these famous works, one cannot help noticing that The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers is a rather slender volume. To have taken eight years, it must have been written at the rate of about a word a day. True, size isn’t everything, and Falconer has kept busy as an essayist and critic in the meantime, but it is a little anticlimactic, after the best part of a decade has gone by, to be presented with a novella that you finish reading before your coffee goes cold.
I should confess that I was not one of the many people enraptured by The Service of Clouds, a novel in which even the act of vomiting in an alleyway was treated as an occasion for the author to indulge her fondness for mellifluous phrasemaking. There is no denying the book was an unusually accomplished début that deserved the attention it received, but it was also earnest to the point of pomposity and so determined to overwhelm with the lushness of its descriptive passages that, for this reader at least, it quickly became insufferable. The Service of Clouds might not have been page after page of twinkling nonsense, but it worked damn hard to give the impression it was.