Christmas Eve, 1999. The eponymous Byron Easy sits aboard a train stationed at King’s Cross ruminating over his life and contemplating suicide. At first glance the reader would be forgiven for assuming Byron is just another failed poet – nihilistic, self-indulgent, depressed and highly dependent on red wine. But on further inspection we come to realise that this poet’s problems are rooted in the bleak experiences of his existence, from his relationship with his distant father to an ill-fated marriage to a half-Spanish wife.
In Byron Easy, Jude Cook’s ensnaring debut, each chapter piques the reader’s interest about the next revelation that will be made about the narrator’s life. Byron acknowledges his suicidal musings and the difficulties involved in taking one’s own life, revealing after a few pages that he must never get his hands on a gun. The novel considers the capacity for a woman to be the abuser in a relationship and for a man to suffer for the sake of his art. At the heart of Byron Easy is a yearning for art for its own sake, but responsibility and the demands of moneymaking inevitably get in the way. Jude Cook is evidently well read: literary figures and texts are alluded to throughout the novel, and at one point he notes that: ‘You can tell a lot about someone from their books.’
This text is well structured and consists of elaborately woven and layered prose: his wife, Mandy, is a master of ‘the shadowy epicentres of temptation one catches lighting up murky parties with a flashbulb of heartbreakingly sexy teeth’. Undoubtedly Cook has an elegant and diverse lexis at his disposal. This is the type of novel that can instil a desire to write, to view the world as Byron does, to see poetry in the everyday. Despite the fact that he is 30, alone and with very few worldly possessions, Byron has lived and loved, and, whilst his achievements cannot be detailed on a conventional, success-focused CV, he has nonetheless lived and has a story to tell.
There are ultimately two journeys in this novel, the first being the physical trip Byron Easy takes from London to Leeds in order to visit his mother for Christmas. The second journey is far more metaphysical, concerning Byron’s understanding of his past, his own self and the reason he is presently on a train in London. Byron is categorising his life, and much like one would do with a book, he intends to put an end to his current volume and begin another life, another book, another story. The novel describes the musings and reflections of one lonely individual, yet this is perhaps where the poignancy of the work lies: Byron Easy represents anyone you see on the train, on the bus, on the street.