Book Review: JAGO

PrintE-mail Written by Julian White

Review: Jago / Author: Kim Newman / Publisher: Titan Books / Release Date: Out Now 

Kim Newman is best known as the author of the Anno Dracula novels, a series of slick entertainments packed full of clever nods to classic works of horror and SF. Before that though he wrote Jago, a mighty slab of a book which takes the multi-stranded format of a Stephen King blockbuster and transplants it to a remote Somerset village. Promise you one thing – more gets spilt that just a spot of cider. 

The village in question is named Alder. Baking under a summer drought, it's all set to play host to a rock festival held on the grounds of an enigmatic religious community, but in the lead-up a number of people start having surreal encounters with the supernatural. A hard-up gentleman farmer slowly transforms into the Green Man of folklore, a student of vintage science fiction sees an H.G. Wells Martian looming over the treetops, a biker comes back from the dead to foment a cannibalistic cult, and that's only a mere sampling of the weirdness... It all has something to do with the religious community's leader, the Jago of the title, but even the undercover psi ops agent monitoring his every move is hard put to know what's going on.

This is an example of a young writer throwing absolutely everything at a book, and that's both a good thing and a bad thing. Even 20 years on, its portrait of a corner of Britain in a grip of a sweltering heatwave has an immediacy and grit which you will look for in vain in the Anno Dracula series. There are some extraordinarily intense passages of writing that make you think of J.G. Ballard's The Unlimited Dream Company or the apocalyptic paintings of Stanley Spencer. This is Newman with his guard down, daring to be vicious and nasty and ugly. On the downside, the need to keep tabs on an unwieldily large cast of characters means that the novel moves at a snail's pace, and, as reality unhinges more and more over the second half of the book, you eventually get numbed to all of the full-throttle phantasmagoria. As a result, Jago is much less shattering than it ought to be considering the amount of effort that clearly went into it.

Still, it's an impressive tour de force, one which makes most of King's offerings look like limp door-stoppers by comparison. And if nothing else, it gives you a renewed appreciation for the neatness, charm and wit of Newman's later books.


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