Spanning three continents and two centuries, Twelve Bar Blues is an epic tale of fate, family, friendship and jazz. At its heart is Lick Holden, a young jazz musician, who sets New Orleans on fire with his cornet at the beginning of the last century. But Lick's passion is to find his lost step-sister and that's a journey that leads him to a place he can call 'home'. Meanwhile, at the other end of the century, we find Sylvia, an English prostitute, and Jim, a young drifter. They're in search of Sylvia's past, lost somewhere in the mists of the Louisiana bayou. Patrick Neate has written a story that straddles time and space, love and friendship, roots and pilgrimage and everything between. Poignant and hilarious, it will hook you - like a favourite tune - till the end.
Penguin Books Ltd
Publisher and industry reviews
'Alex Garland watch out...' - Cosmopolitan
UK Kirkus review
Before the 20th century can draw its first breath, Fortis James Holden is born into a poor family in Louisiana. At the age of eight Fortis, by now known to all as Lick, finds himself in a house of detention after a prank goes terribly wrong. He retreats into the shadows, avoiding trouble from teachers and other boys, until he discovers a talent for playing the cornet and joins the band. On his release, Lick discovers that his calling allows him to raise a little money to help support the surviving members of his family but before long he is wooed by the city of New Orleans. Lick builds up quite a reputation for himself as a fine jazzman, but he is distracted by his desire to find the beautiful girl he grew up with as brother and sister, though they were not related. Finding her takes a lot of trouble, but his troubles are only just beginning.... At the tail-end of the 20th century, someone else is in turmoil. Sylvia Di Napoli is black. The colour of her skin has always been a problem. Born to white Italian-Americans who moved to London, she grew up under a cloud, despised by her father who would never believe she could be his child. As a teenager, Sylvia ran away from home, falling into prostitution to keep herself alive. Now in her mid-40s and 'retired', she wants to get to the heart of her identity. Her parents are both dead so she travels to New York to meet her great-uncle, possibly the last person alive who can help her. The visit sets in motion a series of encounters with a diverse range of people, including a young English drifter, a blues man, and a witch doctor, as fate takes a hand to lead her to the truth. Will it be a truth she wants to hear? Patrick Neate thought the decision to present him with the Whitbread Novel Award in 2001 was 'absurd'. Readers of Twelve Bar Blues may be inclined to disagree. Neate has produced a work that spans continents and centuries without ever losing its grasp on more intimate human truths and concerns. The author brings African villages and Big Easy honkytonks to vivid, bustling life, creating exciting backdrops for the various strands of unfolding drama. It is a world apparently governed by fate where people get swept towards their destiny, for better or worse. It seems romantic but, as one character points out, there is really nothing romantic about a life in which you have no say. That may be quite a sobering thought, but if it is your destiny to read this book then you must have some very friendly forces pulling your strings. (Kirkus UK)
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