Book review: Byron easy, By Jude Cook


David Evans
Saturday 15 February 2014 01:00 GMT

At the centre of Jude Cook’s debut novel is Brian “Byron” Easy: cuckold and poet manqué. He boards a train on Christmas Eve, and the sights and sounds of the journey occasion a rush of memory: from his difficult suburban childhood to his disastrous marriage.

Byron’s embittered narration is rather prolix, and the novel steadily expands to a whopping 500 pages. There is a reason why, as a fictional form, this kind of miserabilist monologue tends to be brief: there is only so much misanthropy a reader can take. When Byron praises “Kubla Khan” (“only fifty-four lines long”) you find yourself wishing he’d emulated Coleridge’s concision.

And yet, Byron’s voice is so convincingly realised – at once eloquent and pathetic, generous and self-serving – that you feel compelled to keep him company for the duration. Towards the end Cook shrewdly varies the tone, offering some tender observations on family life. The result is not an easy read, but it is a rich and rewarding one.

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