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Twelve Bar Blues
ISBN 0802140564 / 9780802140562 / 0-8021-4056-4
Publisher Grove Press
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Patrick Neate's second novel, Twelve Bar Blues, is a bouncy, ebullient book, "populated" (as one of its cast reflects midway through), "by absurd characters, dead ends and half truths" that tumbles "toward a punch-line that would seem inevitable with hindsight". It positively brims with outlandish, hilarious and moving (if occasionally hokey) tales. Literally "every name's got a story" and by jingo Neate delights in spinning each part of his yarn. Roaming through the black slums and early jazz joints of the Louisiana bayou to Africa, London, New York, Chicago and New Orleans at the end of the 20th century, his vista is extraordinary. There's Tongo Kalulu, the chief of the Zimindo, a proud African tribe, who, confused by his wife and enraptured by an attractive female American archaeologist, seeks the advice of Musa, his sex-obsessed witch doctor. There's Sylvia di Napoli, a "coffee-coloured" retired London prostitute, who has travelled to America in the hope of discovering her real fatheršs identity. Also along for the ride is Jim Tulloch, a scruffy, big-hearted young Englishman half her age. Gluing these seemingly disparate elements together is the tragic love story of Fortis James "Lick" Holden, a long forgotten Louisiana jazzman who allegedly taught Louis "Dipper" Armstrong the "meanin' of the word hot" and Sylvie Black, his prostitute "sister (who wasn't no blood relation)". Chock full of jazz, poverty, sex and death, this enjoyable novel jives to a note-perfect if predictable ending, dispensing intelligent critiques of racism and sexism along the way. --Travis Elborough [via]