Whole Story £20.41

Eleven, By Mark Watson (Read by Jot Davies)

This goes out to the one I left behind

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.

Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The long walk west: they fled war in Syria, only to get held up in Hungary – now hundreds of refugees have set off on foot for Austria

    They fled war in Syria...

    ...only to get stuck and sidetracked in Hungary
    From The Prisoner to Mad Men, elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series

    Title sequences: From The Prisoner to Mad Men

    Elaborate title sequences are one of the keys to a great TV series. But why does the art form have such a chequered history?
    Giorgio Armani Beauty's fabric-inspired foundations: Get back to basics this autumn

    Giorgio Armani Beauty's foundations

    Sumptuous fabrics meet luscious cosmetics for this elegant look
    From stowaways to Operation Stack: Life in a transcontinental lorry cab

    Life from the inside of a trucker's cab

    From stowaways to Operation Stack, it's a challenging time to be a trucker heading to and from the Continent
    Kelis interview: The songwriter and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell and crying over potatoes

    Kelis interview

    The singer and sauce-maker on cooking for Pharrell
    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea