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4.0 out of 5 stars
Coming through Slaughter
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VINE VOICEon 8 August 2015
Although Michael Ondaatje plays fast and loose with both the facts and fiction of the Bolden myth, this novella, with it's poetic language and almost elegiac treatment of his ghost-like figure is a subtle, vivid and haunting portrayal of a man unable to deal with the life he lived - and probably unable to advance on the music he'd helped develop.

The book reads at times like a prose-poem and captures a state similar to improvising around the theme - not quite the truth, but a dance, an elaboration around the facts - what, in Elemental Jazz was called "ragging" which is what the real Buddy Bolden did; improvising decoratively around the melody as the lead-instrument played it (That's why the famous photograph has two clarinettists - one would have played the lead). That this is fundamentally a melancholic story suggests that what is improvised is almost certainly the literary equivalent of a jazz-inflected blues.
There's a rather fanciful inclusion of the photographer E.J. Bellocq as a character in the drama - another mysterious real-life legend shrouded in mystery, though less of an enigma than Bolden. Ondaajte fully exploits the colourful possibilities of his subject matter and weaves a brilliant, beautiful and evocative piece of work.

A fine book to read, re-read and perhaps one to savour.
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on 29 July 2014
Although not accurate with some of the details, it manages to capture an era at the beginning of jazz and maintains the mystery surrounding Bolden.
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on 25 November 2013
Full of startling imagery, a really thrilling account of Bolden the young man, the lover, the musician, the madman. Wonderful.
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on 20 May 2012
Despite its physical thinness Coming Through Slaughter is a poetic opus to music, love and creativity that both transcends and rejoices in its New Orleans era setting
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on 11 February 2010
I can understand how this book has made a deep impression on some people, and I think, in parts, it had the same effect on me. It is very emotional and sometimes painfully intimate in its closeness to Bolden as he goes mad. Sometimes the prose is perfectly accurate, and places you right in the middle of the steamy New Orleans summer along with the lost souls trying to make a life there. His description of the life dictated by hardship, heat, booze, whores and jazz is colourful and buzzing, accentuated by the unorthodox methods of writing that Ondaatje uses throughout the book.

But it is just those unorthodox methods which bothered me. Most of the time it worked beautifully, and made for a atmospheric and beautiful book. But sometimes it went a bit too far for me, with the sudden changes in narration, the chaos and the elaborate trains of thought veering away from the present moment. I found this a little too experimental and disjointed, distracting from the otherwise passionate and intense story.
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This atmospheric novella looks at the life of Jazz pioneer Buddy Bolden. Buddy Bolden left little material legacy - one scratchy photograph and no recordings of his music - but he was influential on the style of Jazz in turn of the century New Orleans. The author cleverly tackles Bolden's life from the point of view of his friend, Webb, who first searches for him when Bolden goes missing. It is difficult to describe this book, as much of it seems as out of reach as the fading photograph of cornet player Buddy Bolden himself, as though you are seeing and speaking to ghosts. However, the author holds your attention with the beauty of his prose and his recreation of a lost time is flawless.

Buddy Bolden, like many of his contemporaries, had a hard and tragic life. Living amongst the prostitutes and piano players of New Orleans, Bolden juggled a day job as a barber and his nights as a musician, before going spectacularly off the rails. Personal relationships, his disappearance, reappearance and the end of his life in the Louisiana State Insane Asylum, are given a realistic, but gentle and deft touch, under the hands of a writer who treats all his characters with humanity and sympathy. I have never read anything by Michael Ondaatje before, but I know I will be remedying that in the future. A beautiful book and not just for music fans, although you will surely be tempted to find out more about this era, and music, after reading this novella.
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on 19 May 2012
Through poetic, rhythmic language, Ondaatje projects impressionistic snapshots of a lost world, and a lost musician. The story resonates like Bolden's cornet-playing, encapsulating the hazy atmosphere and uneasy emotions of an era, in this ensemble of a ragged fragmented life. Uncomfortably compelling, the haunting, haunted melody lingers long after the last word.

"They sat till all tiredness was gone, the three of them, and about five in the morning they stood and groaned and went to bed. Then Bolden did a merciless thing. For the first time he used his cornet as jewelry. After the couple had closed their door, he slipped in a mouthpiece, and walked out the kitchen door which led to an open porch. Cold outside. He wore just his dark trousers and a collarless white shirt. With every sweet stylised gesture that he knew no one could see he aimed for the gentlest music he knew. So softly it was a siren twenty blocks away. He played till his body was frozen and all that was alive and warm were the few inches from where his stomach forced the air up through his chest and head into the instrument. Music for the three of them, the other two in bed, not saying a word."
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on 21 March 2015
Many thanks.
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on 3 July 2000
Buddy Bolden is a near-mythic figure in the music world - claimed by many to have "invented" jazz near the turn of the (last) century. Here Ondaatje has taken the few facts known about the cornetist - there are no known recordings - and produces a superb novel that tells its story through song lyrics, poetry and breathtaking prose.
Bolden is portrayed in all his complexities and incongruities, lacking the necessary self-awareness or self-reflection to prevent his descent into madness. This is an emotionally brutal novel, contrasting against the beautiful and lyrical writing.
You don't have to be a jazz or even a music fan to enjoy this novel - in some ways the music is outside of the main narrative, which primarily focuses on the primal and divergent emotions of a man who carries a gift which is beyond the capacity of its vessel.
If you enjoyed this book, you'll probably also like Geoff Dyer's "But Beautiful", another gifted writer, who also can capture the transcendental quality of music and its creators.
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on 13 October 2009
This guy can really write. Do yourself a favour and turn off the wall-screen for a minute.

It's got jazz, too. It's about a guy went crazy inventing the solo. Maybe. Never recorded a note, but people like Ellington, Bechet and Dr John have songs about him.

I can't pronounce his name, but if I could, I'd say Ondaatje with similar reverence I reserve for Buddy Bolden.
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