Some people’s accents are so settled that it’s hard to imagine them changing much, if at all, through outside influence. Other people’s accents change readily and strikingly, a point exaggerated for comedic effect in Julian Gough’s recent novel Jude in London:
Her accent, in so brief a time, had gone completely London. I had seen the phenomenon before: some of the Lads, after a weekend in Limerick, would return to the Orphanage with accents so foreign they made the younger Orphans cry.
Elements of language and identity feature prominently in Jude. Its eponymous hero, an irrepressible young Irishman, initially finds his speech emerging in the form of parodically British English as a result of a “Mental Catastrophe” (explained in this extract).
His appearance has already been radically and rudely refashioned by plastic surgery. In this guise, in a valley in England (“or perhaps Wales”), he meets a group of construction workers:
I concentrated hard on distilling the pure drop of my Irishness. I structured my sentence in the glorious grammatical forms of the original language of all these islands. I would be authentically Irish.
I’d be Jude. And what name would you be after having yourself? I thought.
“The name is Jude. May I enquire as to your identity, sirs?” I said.
The more Irish I tried to be, the more English I sounded.
“What?” said the Lads.
“My speech,” I explained, “has been corrupted by English novelists.”
Jude’s plot is episodic, its elaborate set pieces tied together by the narrator’s continuing journey to learn his origins and find true love. Sincerity mixes with silliness, sometimes in the same serendipitous sentence. Throughout, opportunities for wordplay and mischief are inventively grasped.
As he wends his wandering way through the adventure, Jude meets many colourful characters borrowed from reality and warped with authorial abandon. Some serve chiefly to fuel an extravagant pun, for example the artists formerly known as Eminem and Tracey Emin, who together have founded a movement to fight for women’s rights:
“It is modelled on the Be-ism of John Ono Lennon and Yoko Ono Lennon. Except they used pacifism, and we use violence.”
“Fair play to you both,” I said.
“We call it Feminemineminemism,” he said.
“It rolls off the tongue,” I said. “Eventually.”
Eminem is subsequently referred to as Eminem Emin-Eminem. This sort of revelry in daftness gets me giggly, so as you might imagine, I had a lot of fun with the book. It’s constantly playful — almost exhaustingly so — with jokes operating on multiple levels, some immediate and obvious, some allusive and engineered with patient intricacy.
In this regard Jude is reminiscent of the work of Flann O’Brien and even Buster Keaton, and it shares their plasticity of form and robust disregard for plausibility. The world is distorted this way and that, for all sorts of structural and opportunistic reasons. (Gough has described the book as being about “the bizarre love triangle between consciousness, language, and reality”.)
The style will not appeal to everyone. There is relentless use of Comedy Capitals and Emphatic Capitals, and the story and language alike are frequently and deeply scatological. Readers of Gough’s earlier novels, Juno and Juliet and Jude in Ireland (formerly Jude: Level 1), will have an idea of the tone, and may double it.
But the underlying voice is warm, wry, and consistent even as it embraces paradox and multiplicity. For all its puns, perversions, and prods at literary luminaries, Jude is no mere cheeky comic novel. It’s an original, idiosyncratic and well-written tale that resists tidy categorisation: it’s a lark within a love story and a quest full of questions; whimsy and lunacy belie heartfelt points about life, art, literature and criticism, Irish culture and politics, and Tipperary sandwiches.
John Self’s insightful review says Gough “pursues flights of fancy with ruthless logic” and that he has “not so much killed his darlings, as filled the book with them” — which is fair, I think, but then darlings have their own appeal. Kevin Barry in the Irish Times said he was interested in stories “where the writer has managed to get all of his or her darlings onto the page.”
Jude in London is part 2 of a trilogy. For a flavour, I recommend the aforelinked extract; and The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble, a surreal satire of economic madness first published in the Financial Times as a standalone piece and later incorporated into Jude. Both showcase Gough’s freewheeling style and flair for farce.
Jude is available from Old Street Publishing and in bookshops.