Length: 416 pages
About: Jazz story spanning two centuries
Where: Africa, US (New Orleans & New York), UK (London)
When: 1790s- 1990s
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