Oneworld £12.99

Review: Magnificent Joe, By James Wheatley

Of mice and violent Geordies

It's a brave publisher that saddles a debut novel with the label "a present-day Of Mice and Men". But to be fair, this is a pretty gutsy debut. Set in an anonymous north-eastern town, it focuses on a group of men as they make their way from building site to pub to home, with the occasional grocery shopping trip that they try to keep to an absolute minimum.

Everybody dreams of change, particularly at the start of a freezing day's roofing, when the men consider "'Thirty-odd more years of this shite', and then everyone's lottery fantasy comes tumbling out … the same story day after day, slipping through clumsy mouths like worn rosary beads through arthritic hands." But this is a community in which not much happens, apart from one big thing that already did, and another that seems almost inevitable.

The most obvious parallel with Steinbeck's novel is Joe, a gentle man who has learning difficulties. Or, as he and other characters put it, he's "a mentalist". If he is this novel's equivalent to Steinbeck's Lennie, then his George, the man who reluctantly takes Joe under his wing, is our narrator, Jim.

In a prologue, Jim finds Joe dying in a lane, having been "caught" and badly beaten. The novel itself explains how he got there. Jim's part in all of this started when he was a teenager, about to sit his exams and get out of there, before a flash of anger put him in prison. By the time he comes out and slots back into the rut that his friends have carved out for themselves, resentments have already crystallised that will end in disaster. And that can only be bad news for a clumsy innocent such as Joe. By means of a lottery ticket, a dirty secret, quite a lot of casual violence, and a nasty piece of work called Barry, the status quo quickly unravels.

James Wheatley has worked as a labourer in a northern town (as well as a financial and business risk analyst), and he doesn't sentimentalise hard work, hard drinking and violence. A group of local children who antagonise Jim are "good kids, really. No, they're twats. Abortion should be compulsory." Jim is infuriated by Joe. But he does love him.

Magnificent Joe is a brutal little novel that manages also to be tender and funny. It might not really be the Of Mice and Men of our generation. But this ballsy debut shows great promise.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment

Film Leonardo DiCaprio hunts Tom Hardy

Arts and Entertainment
And now for something completely different: the ‘Sin City’ episode of ‘Casualty’
TV
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.

    Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

    Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

    After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
    The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

    Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

    The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
    10 best sun creams for kids

    10 best sun creams for kids

    Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
    Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

    Tate Sensorium

    New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
    Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

    He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
    Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

    Remember Ashton Agar?

    The No 11 that nearly toppled England
    Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

    US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

    Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

    'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

    VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
    The male menopause and intimations of mortality

    Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

    So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
    Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

    'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

    Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
    Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

    Bettany Hughes interview

    The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
    Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

    Art of the state

    Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
    Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

    Vegetarian food gets a makeover

    Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks