Thursday, 11 June 2009

Patrick Neate - Jerusalem (Penguin)

‘Jerusalem’, the new book by Patrick Neate is the final part of a loose trilogy about myth and stories and Africa and London featuring his usual mix of sardonic side-swiping worldviews versus ultra slick language versus marvelling in the power of storytelling. Featuring familiar characters from ‘Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko’ and ‘Twelve Bar Blues’, the book is an expansive universe of different timelines and countries. In London, ultra-cool tastemaker Preston Pinner discovers a rapper called Nobody, who he feels he can mould into a chart-beating superstar. Nobody turns out to be less malleable when he is revealed to be an illegal immigrant and a sharp tongue and a strong sense of racial history. Meanwhile, Preston’s dad, an MP, travels to Zambia (for which read Zimbabwe, with its tyrannical post-revolution Prime Minister, dodgy politics and tenuous diplomatic relations with other countries) to free a business tycoon accused of espionage. Musa, our happy-go-lucky witchdoctor from previous books, minus one foot, languishes in jail and dreams of a Bristolian gentleman on a search for the core of Britishness in the early 1900s, extracts of whose diary pepper the present-day action throughout. It’s a broad canvass that purports to get to the heart of Britishness and as well as discussing the very nature of ‘cool’ and tastemakers who decide our trends, and white man’s burden in Africa, and the nature of history and the folk tales of Africa that tell the same stories that have been retold for years and years. Such a broad canvass and there are some amazing ideas in the book, written well from sentence to sentence, employing a hip slick sensibility and a fast-paced writing style, but the broadness makes the whole project feel bitty and unfinished in places. Which is a shame because in here are some great ideas that struggle with each other for space, struggle with each other to be the big ‘theme.’ There is a lot written about the nature of identity, who we are and what masks we hide behind and what we consider to be home. It’s a great ride throughout, featuring a good finale to the story of Jim Tulloh (from the first two books), but sometimes struggles to keep its ‘big theme’ at the forefront. As a discussion of Britain and this green and pleasant land, it manages to be more successful as the scenes in London echo louder than the MP abroad faux-pas-a-rama. Musa remains as enigmatically batshit crazy as ever and is always fun to read. Patrick Neate is certainly one to always watch as his work is always interesting and this is definitely an ambitious project, definitely worth a read, and definitely hunting down Sway’s track, posing as Nobody, for 'Jerusalem.'

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