Too little too late?

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).

To read more, John Self at Asylum has written an excellent in depth review and an author interview with Crace.


4 thoughts on “Too little too late?

  1. I havent read any Jim Crace and I am not too sure I would want to start with this one (only because it got the same review rating as Fledgling did from you hahaha) where else would you suggest?

    Hope you have had a lovely weekend?

    • I’ve been in Croydon with my folks – we could have met up!!!

      Everyone reckons that Quarantine by Crace is his best, but I’ve yet to read that. However I really did enjoy Arcadia which follows a businessman through his life, and Signals of distress is about a shipwreck and the effect the crew has on the local population – both were brilliant and totally different.

      I’m trying not to overscore books these days, 6.5 (I can’t even stick to points out of ten without subdividing!) is my better than average score – a good read but lacking ‘specialness’.

  2. Hmm, I need to come back to Jim Crace I think. I read a couple of his early books – one about Jesus (Quarntine?) and another about death, if I remember correctly. Your review makes me want to try this one, which has been well reviewed elsewhere also. I think I need to introduce a scoring system – my words are just too vague

    • Tom, I must read some more of his too. I have several in the TBR piles, but really I’d like to re-read Arcadia.

      Scoring systems have pluses and minuses. I started off just scoring out of 5, then needed the intervals inbetween so moved to 10, and now need to nuance it further hence the 1/2s. Whether anyone takes any real notice of this beyond high or low scores I’ve no idea, but it means something to me!

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