Jackie Kay was born and raised in Scotland. She is the author of four collections of poetry: Other Lovers (winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), The Adoption Papers, Off Colour, and Life Mask; almost all of which were collected in Darling: New & Selected Poems. She lives in England.
In another debut, this time from a Scottish writer, a bizarre secret about trumpeter Joss Moody is revealed at his death‘a secret known only to his wife and a shock to their adopted son.
A Scottish poet with a fresh and resonant voice makes her fiction debut with a novel about the life of a famous jazz musician, born female, who masquerades as a man. Like the real-life Billy Tipton, Scottish trumpet player Joss Moody has a wife, Millie, and a domestic life. No one except Millie knows the truth about his sex, which is revealed by the medical examiner only after his death. The issue of sexual identity is only one aspect of Kaye's intense and poetic narrative. Joss is black, and both he and his adopted son, Colman, suffer from pervasive racism in London. Kaye prismatically reflects Joss's life in vignettes from almost a dozen characters, some of them endearingly quirky, but the principal voices are those of Millie and Colman. Angry and bitter about having been deceived by his adoptive parents, Colman is a sour young man, without talent, drive or purpose, and his cooperation with a sleazy reporter who wants to write a tell-all book about Joss grants the narrative its main tension. Rather than sensational revelations, Kaye is interested in motivation and emotion, and her portrait of a distraught Millie is an incandescent study of grief. In conveying the nuances of an unconventional but passionate marriage, Kaye creates her own kind of prose music akin to the bittersweet melodies from Joss's trumpet. Once into the rhythm, however, Kaye cannot abandon its cadences: all the characters speak in the same short, lilting sentences and emphatic fragments, beautiful to the ear but not sufficiently differentiated. In the end, the mysteries of Joss's life remain ambiguous, but his courage in maintaining the sexual charade that allows him entrée into the jazz world, and his legacy of love, provide the haunting motif of this richly evocative narrative. 40,000 first printing; author tour. (Mar.)
WINNER OF THE 1998 GUARDIAN FICTION PRIZE
"It has a humanity and sympathy which engaged me from start to finish. And its energy and directness made it a treat to read. . . . [Trumpet makes] us see that people apparently very unlike ourselves are in fact very much like ourselves. . . . Love is not usually such a triumphant idea in modern writing, but I think Jackie Kay makes it believably and vividly so."
-- Ian Jack, Granta
"Kay spins a love story, a fairy tale, and a psychological thriller out of one deep secret. She has a great gift for delving inside sundry souls, making poetry of their quirks. At its best, her prose ripples like jazz and brims with exquisite insights."
-- Andrea Ashworth, author of Once in a House on Fire
"Jackie Kay makes the unbelievable gloriously real. For a first novel this is remarkably assured, full of melody and tension. Each character is given a singing part, bouncing notes and harmonies off each other as Joss's story is teasingly, movingly revealed. ...Trumpet is a love story and a lament, beautifully told." -- Eithne Farry, Time Out
"A hypnotic story...about the walls between what is known and what is secret--. Spare, haunting, dreamlike."---Time
"Splendid...[Kay's] imaginative leaps in story and language will remind some readers of a masterful jazz solo."---The San Francisco Chronicle