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Wednesday, 14 March 2012

Book Review: Trumpet by Jackie Kay

The premise of Trumpet fascinated me when I picked it up in the bookshop. Joss Moody, famous jazz trumpeter, has revealed a huge secret on his death - he was actually a woman living as a man. His wife, Millie, has taken herself off to a village in Scotland to get away from the prying eyes and gossips but their adopted son, Colman, is left in London to deal with the fallout.

I really enjoyed the first few chapters of this. The first lengthy chapter is told from Millie's perspective, flicking back and forth between the present and past as she struggles with her grief. It's a poignant portrait of sorrow and love, serving to remind the reader that things aren't always black and white. Interspersed with the 'real' narrative are chapters that look at proceedings from people who deal with the aftermath of the lie - the doctor, the funeral director, the registrar. I liked those three chapters and I liked Millie's chapters. What I disliked, however, were the chapters that focused on Colman, Sophie the journalist who has talked him into a book, and the small bitty chapters that look at people on the periphery of Moody's life. I understand that Kay wanted to portray how the lie affected everybody associated with Moody but the result is a little too disjointed for my tastes. That said, none of the chapters are badly-written and all are evocative in one way or another.

Colman, though, is a thoroughly irritating character. In all honesty, his masturbation scene was certainly something I could've lived without reading. He's not just being an idiot due to the lie, both he and his mother freely admit to themselves that he's been that way all his life. His pact with journalist Sophie seems completely in character for him. As for Sophie herself, I think she was caught between being a stereotypical journalist (the implications of which are even more repugnant now than they were in 1998) and Kay trying to portray her as something more. I honestly don't think the exposition regarding Sophie was necessary and the chapters in her viewpoint felt a little redundant. 

As you can tell, I had mixed feelings about this one. Very well-written, very human and very descriptive. Kay's poetic tendencies certainly shine through in the prose. However, my enjoyment was marred by the difficulty in keeping up with where you were in each chapter. I'd still recommend it, though, mainly for the sensitive treatment of the subject matter.

1 comment:

Crafty Green Poet said...

I read this a while agi and would probably agree with almost everything you've said!