Monday, April 9, 2018

Book Review: Jog Rummage

Book Review: 'Jog Rummage' by Grahame Wright

4 / 5 Stars

This strange little book first was published in hardcover in 1974, with this Pan Books paperback (205 pp) released in 1977. The cover artist is uncredited.

'Jog Rummage' was apparently Grahame Wright's only novel; the brief autobiographical sketch in the paperback indicates he was born in Leicester in 1947, worked for a time in the basement of a large department store, and lives in Tadworth in Surrey. According to his ISFDB entry, he died in 1977 at the age of thirty.

The cover blurbs rely on a review published in Cosmopolitan magazine (who would have thought Cosmopolitan would have reviewed a novel like this.......?!) that mused that Tolkein fans would like 'Jog Rummage'. But it's more accurate to say that 'Jog' has more in common with novels like The Wind in the Willows and Watership Down than with anything by Tolkein.

The opening chapters of the novel introduce the reader to the world of the Jogs (the type of animal they represent is never explicitly disclosed, but apparently, the Jogs are a kind of hedgehog) and the Rats. While the world is seemingly peaceful and idyllic, in the tradition of the classic British 'Talking Animal' tale, there are tensions between the two races of animals. 

Rummage, a Jog and the novel's lead character, is the most learned and wise of the animals. While aware of the enmity between Jog and Rat, Rummage is preoccupied with discerning the character of the world he lives in and its curious features, which include the Great Star, the landscape of the High Mountains, the Shadow, the frightening Swoops, etc. 

Author Wright's use of the convention of capitalized certain proper nouns - very much a classically 'British' writing style - signals to the reader that forthcoming revelations about the nature of the world of the Jogs and Rats will be a key component of the novel.

Which makes it all the more confusing when, on page 50, the narrative shifts completely, from the world of the Jogs, to a gritty English cityscape, circa 1974. 

The plot now revolves around a trio of disabled people: a little girl named Elizabeth; her father, referred to as Mr Morgan; and Uncle Tony Lemon. The struggles of these, and other characters, to eke out a living in a neighborhood undergoing the massive urban renewal that devastated many UK cities in the early 70s are readable, but at the same time, had me wondering if 'Jog Rummage' was less a fantasy novel than a psychological melodrama about a modern working-class English family.

However, it transpires that Elizabeth has discovered her own Secret Place, one within a navigable distance for a handicapped girl. A secret place amid the overgrown, rubble-strewn lots where buildings have been torn down. 

Hidden amidst the nettles is a narrow entrance that leads down to the dimly-lit basement of what once was a major department store. Drawn by some compulsion she cannot define, Elizabeth decides to descend into the basement..........with fateful consequences for All.

The few reviews of 'Jog Rummage' available online stress the unique nature of the novel, a nature that prohibits neatly slotting it into any sort of genre or category. In this I have to agree. While the middle chapters of the book can at times seem unfocused and meandering, if you persevere, the closing chapters possess their own logic and avoid contrivance. Accordingly, I give 'Jog Rummage' a four-star rating. This one is worth searching out.

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