It is a brave and ambitious publisher that markets a debut novel as; "Of Mice and Men meets Trainspotting" - that really is an expectation to have to live up too. I can honestly say though that Magnificent Joe has more than exceeded any expectations I had. I've really enjoyed my journey with Joe and his friend Jim, at times it's been a difficult and emotional journey, at times I've laughed along with them and at the end my tears were flowing.
Magnificent Joe may be the title of this book, and he's a wonderful character, but for me the most magnificent character is Jim. Jim is one of those guys who has found himself in the middle of a life that he can't get out of. His actions as a teenager have shaped the rest of his life, and despite the fact that he's bright, well-read, kind and passionate, he's stuck in a small village in the North East surrounded by mates from years ago, working as a labourer, drinking too much and eating crap food. Jim's friendship with Joe is one of the things that marks him out as 'different'. Joe lives with his Mum, is slow-witted and the victim of constant bullying by the local kids but Jim sticks by him, shows him friendship and cares for him. Joe and his Mum are the only link that Jim has to his long-gone Dad and he can't give that up, nor can he stop feeling guilty that he wasn't around for his Dad when he needed him.
This is a modern, contemporary story about realistic characters who live life day to day. Set in the North East among working-class people, it is littered with bad language. Some readers may object to this, but it is not done to shock - it is done because this is the language that the characters speak. There's no point setting a story in a gritty pub populated by builders and making them speak in polished English - it's got to be real to be credible.
James Wheatley is a talented new author who has produced a novel that is raw and powerful, yet compelling and emotional. I enjoyed this story very much - the characters, the writing and the dialogue are perfectly pitched. I look forward to reading more from this author.