Wednesday 21 March 2018

Review: Fiction: Jude In London by Julian Gough

Many of us who dreamed, as children, of being writers envisioned the romance of it, the struggle to be recognised, starving in the garret, putting art first. Most, when we stop dreaming, sell out and settle for money before art. Most, but not all, which is why I really admire someone like Julian Gough.

The Tipperary writer lives in Berlin, possibly the coolest city in the world (in a garret overlooking the Brandenburg, I like to think). He writes novels that are strange, uncompromising and uncommercial. He even, by his own admission, went bust while crafting the latest, Jude in London.

Most of all, Gough creates literature for its own sake -- an artist, not a pen-for-hire. You could imagine him wasting away in his Berlin bolthole, indigent and unrecognised, but defiant to the last. Happy, even, because he created something of worth and lived true to himself.

Now, we say unrecognised but that's not quite true: he achieved a measure of fame with late-1980s pop group Toasted Heretic, and his fiction has won awards and been likened to Wodehouse and Kafka.

He's written plays for BBC Radio and this book has just been nominated for The Guardian's 'Not the Booker Prize', sparking off an entertaining row which degenerated into a debate about Galway's cultural demerits! But it's probably safe to say Gough hasn't had massive commercial success, which is a shame -- he writes fine books, inventive, sincere and well-crafted.

This picks up the outlandish story of the title character of its predecessor, Jude in Ireland. An orphan at large in the world, he still has a penis for a nose, still dreams of true-love Angela, and still has the uncanny knack of enmeshing himself in trouble.

Jude in London, unusually for a literary novel, is absolutely packed with plot: within a few chapters he's won the Turner Prize, killed the Poet Laureate, found and been rejected by Angela once more. . . and we're only getting started.

The book is outrageous and larger-than-life, full of picaresque situations, colourful characters and crackling dialogue, with lots of properly witty lines. I especially liked the description of a "pub of excessive Irishness".

Fans of Flann O'Brien or Roddy Doyle will love this -- and everyone else will enjoy it plenty.

Darragh McManus

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