Jazz by Toni Morrison

I have been reading rather a lot of books recently, which is a good thing. For most of February and March I’ve been working very long hours and reading has been a fantastic way to un-wind and relax. I enjoy writing and am in the middle of writing another novel but what with my work-load and stress I’ve found it very difficult to just switch off from work; unless of course I pick up a book.

I devour books, not literally I should hasten to add. What I mean is that when I start a book I tend to devote myself to it; reading late into the night, reading it whilst I have breakfast; in fact finding any spare moment possible to read. I enjoy reading. Always have done. I remember as a child being told off for reading when there is work to be done but to me if you are reading you are working. You are learning.

The only problem I had with Toni Morrison’s book, Jazz, was me to be honest. I race through books I want to know what happens. Books, that I enjoy I quite often re-read because now I know what happens I want to enjoy the journey. With Jazz the point is to enjoy the journey, not race to get to the destination. There isn’t really a destination because in the first few pages you already know where that is.

Now, I’ve never read anything by Toni Morrison before although I’ve heard and read a great deal about her; and knowing that she has been awarded the Nobel Prize for literature makes me suspect that she can write a bit! And I’m pleased to say that after reading Jazz I’m still of that opinion. One thing that struck me was her writing style. Young writers are often told that they must find their voice but I wonder about Toni Morrison. I’ll try and explain. When I write I need to write often to stay focussed on the story and to keep the same style and the same flow. So, with my (admittedly limited) experience of writing I wonder how Toni Morrison has managed to write this book.

The quotes on the copy of Jazz that I have talk about Toni Morrison’s poetry and I must admit I rather dismissed them as hyperbole – I better praise this Nobel Laureate! Well, it turns out I was wrong. Jazz does feel like a very long lyrical poem and it might be interesting to know if anyone has compared Toni Morrison’s Jazz to Seamus Heaney’s Beowulf. The voices are very different and the songs they are singing are also very different but both still sing, which not many books do. This brings me back to wondering about how Toni Morrison wrote this book. I think she must have entered a sort of trance every time she picked up her pen to write this book.

The fact that she keeps her unique voice, never missing a note as it were, is remarkable but far better than that Jazz is a good story. It talks about people, their lives and how their experiences shape their actions. It is a song of loneliness and redemption; a song of pain and loss, a song of hope and forgiveness.

I was rather fortunate when reading this book to realise quite quickly that I needed to slow down and take the book on its terms not mine. I really enjoyed this book and I’m looking forward to reading it again one day soon.

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