My rating: 4 of 5 stars
It’s Christmas eve, on the dawn of the Millennium, and cynical, self-loathing, lonely, and depressed Byron Easy is taking an arduous train journey from London to Leeds to visit his mother. Thankfully, it’s not that arduous for the reader as we are treated to a new refreshing and enlightening male voice in the form of debut novelist Jude Cook’s messed-up protagonist.
As we join Byron, it’s obvious that he’s just come out of a very difficult and volatile relationship, and as we progress we get more of an insight into Mandy, the beauty with a very dark side. Alongside Byron’s recollections about Mandy we get a full run down of his past; his many jobs, friendships and the loves that got away are all given the wannabe poets treatment and very rarely do any of them come away smelling of roses. Where Byron’s memories are most evocative (and Cook’s writing at it’s best) is in the chapters covering his childhood and early home life. It’s obvious from the outset that Byron has serious self-esteem issues, which over the course of time has an effect on all of his relationships, and it’s in the chapter ‘Home’ that we start to see the root of these issues.
Very rarely does Byron refer to his parents as ‘mum and dad’, much preferring first name terms, nicely underlining the detachment that he feels from these people for whom there is an obvious mutual love, but a complete inability to show it. Cook gives Byron a beautifully evocative and understated voice for this chapter, which for once doesn’t overpower the narrative, instead choosing to let Byron’s memories (and possibly those of the reader) drive the story forward.
This simpler narrative is a welcome break from Byron’s dips into his notebook where he takes on the voice of his namesake while recording either what he experiences on his journey or recalls from his past journal entries, and it’s this ‘recounting’ where I occasionally came unstuck with the novel. For a novel that touches (brilliantly I may add) on the male image, depression, self-worth and the place of the ‘self-aware man’ in society, being regularly told ‘something worse is coming’ caused the book to be closed and not opened for a day or two. It’s certainly not a novel that can be read in one go-you will need a break, especially towards the last third, a section which should possibly come with a trigger warning as events unfold in a graphic and heartbreaking manner.
Whilst sometimes infuriating, it’s obvious that Jude Cook is a talented writer and definitely one to watch for the future and he should be applauded for writing about depression and abuse from a male perspective, something that is seriously lacking from mainstream literature.