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Sensitive study of loss of a loved with feelings confused
on 14 October 2000
Written mainly as a series of interior landscapes with relatively short sketches of the outside world in London and Scotland, the work stimulates your curiosity and engages your empathy. The focus of the story, Joss Moody, deceased trumpeter, appears largely and tantalisingly through others' eyes. This approach is no mere device, it is the point: what Joss meant to those who knew and loved him/her and how his "deception", as some define her/his secret, affects their loyalty and feelings for him/her.
A certain frustration may come from not having one's curiosity fulfilled about Joss's motivation for abandoning his life as the female Josephine. I also regret not witnessing more of Joss's mother's encounter with the adopted son, Colman. The book, though, is not an argument for transvestitism nor is it an apology, nothing so crude. The book is more a celebration, a song for that intangible in the human spirit that makes us feel we have experienced a unique relationship in knowing a particular individual. We are not presented with analysis of these experiences but, rather, the author plays each character's reflections much as Joss played his music. Indeed, Joss, though dead, is still very much alive not only in his recordings but also within those he loved. We too experience him/her in the sublime "Music" chapter where the soul of the novel and the soul of Joss meet in a poetic nexus.
By the end of the book, we have come to know Joss and his/her affect on people but s/he remains an enigma. The newspaper hack attempting to ghost-write Colman's "official biography" of Joss would doubtless produce a conclusive character portrait confidently separating appearance from reality and yet be a million miles from the truth. Kay instead leaves all judgements up to the reader who through her sensitive rendering feel not an impulse to judge but rather a reason to grieve.