Holy cow, you guys. I did not expect to write another one of these posts so soon, but when you find a book like this, you have to talk about it.
I’m taking a course on Scottish Women’s Fiction and the books have been lovely. O Caledonia, The Ballad of Peckham Rye, just wonderful books. But Trumpet by Jackie Kay is on an entirely different level for me. The other books were good and I enjoyed them, but this one? I want to sleep with this book under my pillow in the hopes that I will absorb the language, the characters, the completely perfect way Kay describes her characters and allows them to breathe.
It’s a book about secrets, about the lives we live when we decide the most important thing is to be true to ourselves. The families we create, the passions we follow. It’s also about how people react when the life they assumed we were living is not the life we led.
Joss Moody is a famous trumpet player from a small town in Scotland, where he grew up as Josephine Moore. As an adult, Joss got married, adopted a child, had friends and a home and holidays at the beach. Upon his death, however, his female genitalia is discovered and he is outed. The book follows the people closest to him as they process this information and try to keep on living in the wake of their loss.
There are lines in this book that are so perfect I had to stop and put the book down and just let myself absorb them. “Hindsight is a different light. It makes everything change shape…. I didn’t feel like I was living a lie. I felt like I was living a life. Hindsight is a lie.” Just stop and let that sit with you for a minute. Who of us would say any differently? Who wouldn’t say that the life they live, no matter what other people might think when they found out, is a lie? No. It is a life. It is our life, ours to define and live as we need to.
And this, from the very beginning – I think anybody who has ever lost somebody they cared about will understand Mrs. Moody’s sense that “The space next to me bristles with silence. The emptiness is palpable. Loss isn’t an absence after all. It is a presence.” Look at what she’s done there. Those small sentences, those concrete ideas, all of them could be strung together. “The space next to me bristles with silence, the emptiness is palpable; loss isn’t an absence after all, it is a presence.” But no. This character can’t think like that, can’t string together long sentences. She can barely breathe. She can just barely get through the days and just the sheer simplicity of the sentence structure brings that to light. The thoughts hit her boom boom boom and all she can do is let them strike.
And, okay, one more because I just can’t stand to let this world go. “He paused before he ticked ‘female’ on the death certificate, then handed the pen to her; it was as if the pen was asking her to dance. She took the pen carefully and looked at it, twirling it around slowly as she did so…. She looked as if she was praying as she wrote.” See what I was saying about sentence structure earlier? It’s not that Kay does not write in long, flowing sentences. She allows the character’s emotional state to dictate the language. The character focused on here works at the registrar’s office and takes pride in his work. He fills out birth certificates, marriage certificates, and death certificates, and does it with precision. He wants everything to be beautiful and to be true, and he appreciates Mrs. Moody’s care in signing her name, in her reverence of the moment. He appreciates the way she acknowledges the kindness he tries to show her – he says he cannot tick ‘male’ because it would be a lie. But he uses the name ‘Joss Moody’ instead of ‘Josephine Moore’ and gives his life and his choices as much validation as he can. The interaction between the two of them is small and beautiful and full of kindness.
Okay, I could go on and on, but really, at the heart of things is this: if you love good writing, read this book. If you want to see more stories being told, better representation of queer characters, of minority characters, of the things people struggle with that many of us never have to think about, read this book. If you care about people, read this book. Read this book. Read this book. Read this book.