Byron Easy by Jude Cook (5 out of 5)
Jude Cook’s debut novel is magnificent. Byron Easy is a modern day, sarcastic cynic whose treatise on life and what love has done to him, while on a train riding north from London to see a family that makes him bloody miserable, is your premise. The book jacket blurbs it as High Fidelity meet Lord Byron, the poet. I got some of the High Fidelity reference, but something about this poor guy reminded me more of Bill Murray’s character in Lost In Translation, but with an English accent and an affinity for the drink.
When the book begins, Byron is drunk off his ass in the middle of the morning, on the train to see the family that he’s avoiding at all costs, and he begins immediately with his story. The language that Cook uses for this book is like no language I have read in a book in a long, long time. The last time I read a book that had language flourishes like this one was Jonathan Franzen’s The Corrections and Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s The Shadow of the Wind. Since those two titles are in my top 20 best books of all time, that should give you a clue of how much I loved this book. It is easily read, and Byron is a character that you like immediately. Every stop on his trip up north brings out a new side of his character, his heartbreak, and the insolent ball breaker ex wife, Mandy. Mandy, for the record, is a woman who claims throughout the book to love Byron, yet treats him as he is invisible- unless she wants or needs something from him. She gets, she disappears, and the bad chainsaw starts roaring again. You feel how lost Byron is over the dissolution of the marriage, but there’s also a sense as the book goes on, that he’s better off without this virulent vixen in his life. And believe me, Mandy is a vile woman, but Byron is not without his faults, so there are also moments of understanding why Mandy wants to smack the shit out of him. Despite that, I still found him a lovable scamp of a character. We all lose our way, we all give into the drink, we all mourn the lost loves of our twenties, but part of the message here is that you have got to come out of the woods eventually, and come out into your own. Byron is really grappling with that throughout his long train ride, but by the end, not only does he have his answer to the all-important question plaguing him, but he has an entire epiphany about his life. Where are his friends? Why does his family shun him, and make him miserable to the point of all-distracting anger? Where did it go wrong with Mandy? What happened with his dreams going into his twenties, that so-called magical time? Where did it all go wrong?
There isn’t a lot of negative I can say about this book. I felt so strongly for what Byron went through, because I’ve gone through it a few times, and I have friends who are going through that sort of tumultuous self-discovery and awakening in their own lives. Sometimes the best thing you can do when it all seems to be going in the same pitiful direction is to shake it upside down and inside out and see where things land. Byron does this and the train ride turns out to be the beginning of his answers. Sometimes the best thing you can do when you’re questioning shit in your own life is to read a book like this, and find your own answers. I was lucky to find this book and enjoy it so much. I hope I can pass that joy onto others by putting this book into their hands.