Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Book reviews, Pullitzer, Booker, Costa and Children's Book reviews
Prize Winning Fiction
Prize Winning Fiction

2001 Costa Winner

Twelve Blue Bars by Patrick Neate


Publisher: Penguin

Length: 416 pages

About: Jazz story spanning two centuries


Where: Africa, US (New Orleans & New York), UK (London)

When: 1790s- 1990s


Publisher’s synopsis:

Spanning three continents and two centuries, Twelve Bar Blues is an epic tale of fate, family, friendship and jazz. At its heart is Lick Holden, a young jazz musician, who sets New Orleans on fire with his cornet at the beginning of the last century. But Lick's passion is to find his lost step-sister and that's a journey that leads him to a place he can call 'home'. Meanwhile, at the other end of the century, we find Sylvia, an English prostitute, and Jim, a young drifter. They're in search of Sylvia's past, lost somewhere in the mists of the Louisiana bayou.



'When I open my eyes', Mutela would say, 'you have become a zveko ant,' Or , 'I have given you the gift ogf flight Zike. Spread your arms and touch the clouds! Then, when Zike remained eartbound little boy, Mutela would would become very frustrated and blame him for his lack of cooperation. But Zike didn't mind. He just laughed.




“Twelve Bar Blues” scurries enthusiastically through the jazz dens of New Orleans, a post-colonial African village, London and New York. Its ambitious scale is reminiscent of Zadie Smith's “White Teeth”, another fashionable and ostentatiously multicultural novel by a young Londoner. “Twelve Bar Blues” is fast-paced, funny and entertaining—although the main female character, Sylvia, a disillusioned, mixed-race ex-hooker, often sounds suspiciously like a 30-something white male Cambridge graduate.

For full review click here

The Economist, 17th January 2002


Not so good

It was perhaps this convergence of form and content that impressed the judges, whose statement alerted us to a novel in which "the ranginess of the story mirrors the arbitrariness of life, while the electrifying prose brings to life characters whose experiences span one century, several cultures and many colours". Greater endorsement followed: "Vivid, bold and energetic, Patrick Neate sets a high standard for modern fiction."

It's a telling judgment, if not only for the misreading at its beginning. Life may be arbitrary, but Twelve Bar Blues is definitely not; despite the appearance of improvisation and surface chaos that chimes with its jazz content, it is resolutely tidy, more in thrall to its other major theme of historical destiny. The "electrifying prose" also looks like florid over-praising, because Neate, although capable of diligent ventriloquism, is by no means a distinguished stylist nor a thrilling creator of character. Frequently relying on pace and frantic activity, he gives us voice rather than interiority, and ingenious plot rather than fully achieved story. Vivid, bold and energetic are certainly on the money.

For full review click here

The Guardian, Alex Clark, 19th January 2002


About the author

Born in 1970 and raised as a Roman Catholic in South London, he was educated at St. Paul's School and Cambridge University. He spent a gap year in Zimbabwe and has since returned to Africa on many occasions. He drew on the gap year experience in Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko


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Age guide: 15






Books by same author:

Musungu Jim and the Great Chief Tuloko 2000

The London Pigeon Wars 2004

City of Tiny Lights 2006

Jerusalem 2010

Where You're At: notes from the frontline of a hip hop planet 2014








None to date





































2016 Pulitzer Prize Winner

It's a massive day in arts and journalism because the 100th annual Pulitzer Prize winners were just announced, and there's a big surprise. 2015's best artistic and nonfiction writing across 21 categories were recognized during a ceremony Monday afternoon at Columbia University in New York City. The first Pulitzer Prize was awarded to Hebert Bayward Swope, a reporter for The New York World, in 1916. (And if you're as big a fan of Newsies as I am, that paper should ring a bell, but try to think of it more positively.)

The major prize for book nerds, the 2016 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction went to The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen (Grove Press), a legitimate surprise, if you've been paying attention to the book nerd and industry buzz. The feeling around the prize in the last few months would have you putting all your hard-earned cash down on A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara to take home the award, but that's why you should never gamble. Viet Thanh Nguyen is no less deserving, and moreover, it's his debut novel, which makes it such a wonderful win.

Extract from New York Times to view full article...

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