This is a masterpiece. It’s a story, if you want to reduce it, of a musician who pushed the boundaries of his art into madness
Some novels take you to place where dreams and memories lie, some almost pre-verbal unconscious condition, hypnotic, intimate as the smell of your own breath. This is one.
Michael Ondaatje, with the density and specificity of a poet, tells a version of the life of Buddy Bolden, one of the creators of jazz. Bolden’s a historic and nearly legendary figure who lived and blew his cornet in New Orleans. Ondaatje brings him to life with grace and ferocity.
Along the way, we meet another artist chasing an original vision: E.J Bellocq, the photographer of prostitutes in Storyville. We know Bolden’s women, his friends, his children. And his steadily bending mind.
Bolden eventually broke blood vessels in his throat, and shattered his sanity. He ended up in the state asylum, a pace as grim as you’d imagine, by passing through the Louisiana town of Slaughter.
It took me a long time to read. Partly, because the prose is as dense as poetry. Partly, too, because of the sheer intensity.
Read it, even if you’ll end up scorched and blistered. Because it’s beautiful on every damn page, and beautiful in a way that’ll be new to you and change you.