All That Follows by Jim Crace
It’s 2024 and the eve of jazzman Lennie Less’ 50th birthday. Leonard is on a break from sax-playing – he has a frozen shoulder. Sitting in front of the telly, he hears about a siege in a town not so far away, then he sees a photo of the hostage-taker; it’s a figure from his past. It’s Maxie – Maxim Lermontov! What’s he to do? Leonard used to aspire to be radical like Maxie, back in their student days when Dubya was in the White House, but he never went through with it. This time, rather than ring the police and tell them about Maxie, Leonard sets off to visit the siegeand bumps into Maxie’s estranged daughter; this is the start of getting himself into some serious hot water, which is compounded by him not being truthful with his own wife Francine.
Read the blurb of this novel and you’d think it was a thriller – which may make your heart sink, for esteemed literary authors don’t have a great record when they turn their hand to thrillerdom. However, All that follows only has some thriller elements, at heart it is really a novel of mid-life crisis.
Leonard is very good at talking himself out of things, the only time he lets his heart really rule his head is when he’s playing sax. Like jazz hero Coltrane, he likes going off-piste in his improvisations…
These are the moments – the blacksmithing, the bleats – that most please and terrify Leonard, the moments of abandonment when he can sense the audience shifting and disbanding. He fancies he can see the flash of watches being checked. Certainly he can see how many in the audience are on the edges of their seats and how many more are slumped, looking at their fingernails or fidgeting. He knows he is offending many pairs of ears. They’ve come for those cool and moodily bluesy countermelodies that have made the quartet celebrated, not for the restless, heated, cranked-up overloads. But still he has to carry on, he has to nag at them, because he won’t be satisfied until he has lost and possibly offended himself.
The rest of the time, apart from a real hardline health-food diet, he takes the path of least resistance in life, and being around all day is driving him into being very passive. It’s affecting his relationship with Francine too, which is already under pressure over the absence of her daughter Celandine. But seeing Maxie makes him want to do something spontaneous and rebellious before he’s 50 – it just doesn’t turn out quite the way he anticipated it. Having just had a certain big birthday myself, I was very pre-occupied with it looming, so I did sympathise with Leonard more than I expected to, and I did like Francine’s strength of character in particular.
I’ve read two other Crace books that I really enjoyed; Arcadia and Signals of Distress are both better than this novel, however All that follows is not bad – just not quite as good as the others. (6.5/10, I received this book from the Amazon Vine programme).