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Trumpet by Jackie Kay
Guest blogger Amy Ryan reviews Trumpet by Jackie Kay

I have always been aware on some level that racial and gender stereotyping is a large part of the world today, but novelist Jackie Kay truly brought this theme to life for me through the story of the life and death of trumpet player Joss Moody. The story of how the world reacted to his real gender is told from the viewpoint of a whole cast of characters, who all have different views and emotions towards the most fascinating character in the novel.

Kay’s writing style is one of the reasons I loved Trumpet. The story is told in vignettes and the reader is presented with an intricate, almost poetic narration of the different memories, attitudes and identities of characters from all walks of life. There is so much more going on than just the public outcry towards a man who was actually a woman, and Kay takes the reader on a journey to the heart of the book to discover what that is.

The novel begins right after Joss Moody, central character and famous jazz trumpet player passes away. The discovery of his real gender by the paparazzi drives his wife Millie into grief and isolation. Apart from Millie, not even Joss’ adopted son knew that he was a woman, and they lead the normal life of a normal married couple. The mystery surrounding the relationship between Joss and Millie and what it was really like is one of the reasons you want to keep reading Trumpet.

Trumpet is full of interesting characters such as Colman and Millie; they epitomize raw and real emotions that correlate to everyday life, and it is perhaps this which makes the book so beautifully touching. Millie is overwhelmed by grief due to the death of her husband, and Colman erupts into rage and bitterness when he finds out, in his words, that he has been ‘conned’ by his own father. He plans taking revenge on Joss by revealing his life to ambitious journalist Sophie, who dreams of making it into her bestseller. You are gripped in tension and mounting suspense as to whether Colman will go ahead with it, breaking both Millie’s heart and the privacy of a couple who were very much in love.

Colman and Millie really bring home what it means to love, have loved or question a loved one you thought you knew, and keeps the reader sympathising and empathising with them until the end. Kay pieces together the ups and downs of Joss’ life also through the accounts of other more minor characters such as his fellow band mate Big Red, in which they either accept Joss’ identity or they do not. As a reader, I found myself questioning whether I would perceive Joss’ identity as irrelevant, or if I too would not accept it. The book encouraged deep thought that to me, extended even as far as my own identity, ruminating whether we have the power to judge or stereotype another human at all.

Inspired by the 1950s American jazz musician Billy Tipton who lived as a woman for fifty years, Kay challenges stereotypes and race and gender politics, exploring on a much deeper level what is the truth of our identities; it is what we know ourselves in our hearts to be that is what’s important. Trumpet is a truly beautiful novel that deserves to be recognised for its poetic language, intricate style of writing, but also it’s broad, touching landscape of identity and stereotypes that everyone around the world, regardless of race, gender or background can relate to.

Amy Ryan is a guest blogger and Creative Writing student at York St John.