At its simplest level, a Book of blues is a tome dedicated to exploring the complexity of love and relationships rendered against a landscape depicted with an almost inexhaustible level of cultural and emotional detail.
From references to the famous Echoes publication to the infamy of Westwood gigs, from the edgy US based Vibe magazine to the now defunct Observer Music Monthly, to those that don’t know the cultural references some of the subtleties may be lost, to those that do, the world is as real as the paper the book is printed on.
In fact it is this very realism that marks a book of blues out as something extraordinary.
Courttia is skilled in revealing with almost forensic detail the character and moods of his actors and their environments which is global in scope. This however is not to say he is verbose for the sake of it, in a collection of short stories this would be likely to have a detrimental effect.
No, instead Courttia’s choices of words are succinct but always potent. This leads perhaps to the only critism. Unlike with his earlier work, the deliciously eccentric “Music for the Off-key”, these tales often conclude leaving you with the feeling there is more to come but the author is not giving.
Whilst being satisfying, the payoff at the end of some of the stories do too well a job of establishing the backdrop for a longer story. Nonetheless this should not and must not deter lovers of fine literature to avoid this sublime piece of work.
For more conservative minded readers, Courttia's fluid and interchangeable representations of gender, sexuality and ethnicity could be perceived as the significant ‘payoff’.
His normalisation of the un-traditional deftly and deliberately disorientates forcing readers to challenge their pre-conceptions.
Yet I have deliberately not given individual reviews as the collection works best viewed as a cohesive whole, and as with Tarantino’s landmark film Pulp Fiction which originally appeared to be a series of disjointed stories, I only wish there was one main dominant character a presence that existed in each tale even if in some places only as a passing reference providing an anchor to Courttia’s esoteric universe.
Raw yet sensitive, real and yet surprisingly unpredictable, a book of blues is a celebration of human diversity. And in so doing, it achieves the remarkable feat of using empathy to paint the complex emotional drivers many of us hide whilst presenting a facade of normality.