This is an early novel by Michael Ondaatje, and a very good reminder (going back to The English Patient too) that Michael Ondaatje’s early writing is informed greatly by his also being a working poet. In this novel we follow along through a series of interviews and perspectives detailing the life of an early jazz and blues musician and photographer. This is novel captures the frenetic, violent, sexualized, entropic, chaotic, life of the musician.
So the novel is short, explosive, and energetic throughout. I think a lot about how we look at these kinds of young people of the past (specifically those kinds of young literary characters and figures like Romeo and Juliet, John Keats, and the tons of musicians who died early and think about how life as we know it failed them not by just not having the words and abilities to try to save them. I mean I can’t even imagine how many people we lost through the ages just by not having glasses for them, let alone the mental health treatments that would have saved countless lives and heartaches.
This is one of those novel where we’re dealing with a young man whose brain is on fire and he’s got nothing except sex and drugs and music and violence to try to capture and spin that chaotic energy into something productive and that can withstand the force this creates. It all makes for an amazing novel (and truly inspired audiobook performance by Dion Graham), but it’s no way to allow a life to be lived.