Whole Story £20.41
Eleven, By Mark Watson (Read by Jot Davies)
This goes out to the one I left behind
Sunday 03 July 2011
Once, descending a steep escalator, I spotted a long lost school friend going up.
She waited for me to get back to the top, and an old friendship, which lasts to this day, was fortuitously renewed. Had one of us been a few seconds later, we'd never have seen each other again. The long-term effects of such accidental encounters form the basis of Mark Watson's excellent novel.
His hero is Xavier Ireland, an Australian DJ covering the graveyard shift on a London radio station. Here, he listens attentively and dispenses gentle advice to sleepless callers – people such as Clive, a depressed teacher, and Iris, a jolly east London pensioner. Their stories play out against his own daytime life, in which he resolutely resists involving himself with anyone in trouble, specifically with Frankie, a boy he fails to save from being beaten up by thugs. And it's thanks to this latter incident that events in 11 people's lives are subtly twitched, and begin their own spiralling interactions – which eventually come back to impact, dramatically, upon Xavier.
Xavier's sidekick, a hopeless fellow whose stutter makes him radically unsuited to broadcasting, inveigles him into going speed dating. As a result, Xavier meets Pippa, a no-nonsense Geordie with plenty of her own problems, who arrives to clean his flat and stays on, eventually forcing him to confront the traumatic events in his past which have caused his emotional paralysis. She is an enormous, dynamic force, and she teaches him, among many other things, the art of efficient vacuuming (not as easy as you'd think), while he in return introduces her to the wily skills required to succeed at Scrabble.
Eleven's plot is complicated, but it works. Xavier is central, but each of the many minor characters is sharply sketched and believable. And underneath all of these hectic, metropolitan, cosmopolitan lives pulses the strong Forsterian sense that we need to connect; that even very small, cowardly, or casually cruel actions can have devastating impacts, but also that redemption, however fragile, is sometimes possible – if you work at it.
Jot Davies is a superb reader of the tale, switching seamlessly and apparently effortlessly from Aussie to Geordie to Cockney to posh to agonising stammer. His performance is sensitive and subtle, and the most accomplished I've heard for a long time. It is a tour de force.
MusicThe band accidentally called Londoners the C-word
Film 'I've never been comfortable on-screen', she says
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 'Kidnapped boy may have been abused and murdered by VIP paedophile ring,' say police
- 2 Ridley Scott on Exodus, Gods and Kings casting: 'I'm not going to get it financed if my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such'
- 3 Girl, 7, gets Tesco to remove 'stupid' sign suggesting superheroes are 'for boys'
- 4 This letter from a reader explains why women can’t play football
- 5 'You should come to my house and eat cheeses with me': 4-year-old sends adorable love letter to girl at school
I'm A Celebrity 2014: Jungle security stepped up after murder and 'suspicious death' close to camp
This house and dental clinic 'piled up like bricks on the brink of collapsing' is why Japan wins at architecture
Ridley Scott on Exodus, Gods and Kings casting: 'I'm not going to get it financed if my lead actor is Mohammad so-and-so from such-and-such'
Marilyn Manson denies involvement in shocking Lana Del Rey rape video
There's a Good Girl exhibition: How female creatives are changing the way women are portrayed in advertising
Ukip says babies born to immigrants in the UK should be classed as migrants – which would include Nigel Farage’s own children
Rochester by-election: Ukip gains second MP as Tory defector Mark Reckless holds seat
'Beast of Bolsover' Dennis Skinner takes Ukip MP Mark Reckless to task moments after he is sworn in
The young are the new poor: Sharp increase in number of under-25s living in poverty, while over-65s are better off than ever
Tamir Rice: 12-year-old boy playing with fake gun dies after being shot by Ohio police
Bollywood actress Veena Malik sentenced to 26 years in jail for blasphemy after appearing in mock TV wedding scene