by Sebastian Beaumont
In his first novel, Thirteen, Sebastian Beaumont drew on his own experience as a late night taxi driver in Brighton to create an atmospheric piece about depression in which he played with notions of reality, keeping the reader one step behind all the time. As well as having elements of a psychological thriller he also managed to inject humour into what could have been a downbeat book by including some classic quotes overheard in the back of his cab. It made for a distinctive début so I was thrilled to get my hands on a copy of The Juggler, a book he has described as a companion piece. Whilst the first book is 'an internal psychological journey of a particular individual' The Juggler 'deals with the archetypal psychological landscape that anyone (and everyone) might expect to encounter if they search within'.
At the age of 29 Mark seems to have everything he ever wanted. Married with a good job and 7-month old child, one only has to look just beneath this thin veneer to find the imperfections. Infidelity, debt, medication; Mark feels alone and uncomfortable, that his life is 'teetering' on the brink of something, and an evening out to a comedy club provides the catalyst to send him off on a train, leaving that life behind, armed with only a flyer for a club and a bag containing £40,000 in cash.
The moment in the comedy club is the first of many where complete strangers seem to address his inner thoughts and worries, as if they could read his mind. The comedian singles him out for a tirade of abuse, citing his biggest fears about his relationship, much to the hilarity of the audience. A flyer on his table urges him to 'Make his Mark', the capitalisation of that last word making it seem like a message intended for him. When he leaves the club and is handed a bag by a purposeful man outside with the message 'Make sure Jonathan gets this', opening it to find thousands of £20 notes, he finds himself drawn inexorably to flight, seeking out the address scrawled on the back of the flyer.
Mark's haven is a coastal town, famous for its caves, and he finds refuge first from a familiar face, the stand-up comic. Don heads a household of disparate characters, each with their own reasons for being there and Mark is welcomed into this group which is encouraged not to ask about each other's pasts.
'There is a process going on here,' Don told him. 'It's not to do with conversation. It's to do with being aware of yourself. Everything that you do needs to facilitate that.'But there are consequences for a man who has run off from his life, especially with £40,000 of someone else's money, and Beaumont weaves in the elements of a thriller once again as things develop. There is an underlying menace to this seemingly perfect resort, perhaps best encapsulated in the titular street-performer whom Mark questions after having his charity returned to him.
As Mark pondered this, Don leaned towards him and whispered with a sense of urgency that made the hair on Mark's scalp prickle.
'You will either make a success of this or you will fail, but, either way, the only way you can achieve something worthwhile is to give up any expectations and let what is happening to you happen.'
'What's wrong with my money?' he asked.
'I don't want it,' the man said. 'We don't want your sort here. Locals and tourists are welcome, but we don't want runaways, renegades or parasites...'
He goes on to suggest that he should return home to his family, Mark again baffled by this stranger's knowledge, and we will see him again and again as Mark's situation continues to deteriorate. Beaumont creates a clear psychological landscape; the caves are the setting for a moment of choral singing during which Mark feels accepted by the group and he returns to them later when he is in need of safety and shelter. A house he works to repair is the place in which he confronts his difficult relationship with his father, who had forced him to be a part of his renovations. In fact if I have a criticism it is that these things are sometimes made too clear; with his confusion about his surroundings Mark has a tendency to make clear what is already obvious to the reader, with constant questions. Where Thirteen created an atmosphere of confusion lending its 'meaningful' statements significance, The Juggler seems to be more explicit. The book may not suit all tastes, with the language in places, especially some of the dialogue, closer to what you might expect to hear in therapy rather than real life but Beaumont is careful to balance that with the incredulity of Mark in the face of some of these exchanges. This actually raises some great moments of humour as when Don tries to pacify Mark after his bag of cash goes missing.
'Mark,' he said,'perhaps you have to lose everything, to lose it willingly, I mean, before something else can really start to take its place.'
'That must be the worst excuse for stealing money that I've ever heard.'
I have to admit that I was much clearer about the book as a whole once I had had the chance to interview the author, which leads me seamlessly onto announcing that you will be able to read those thoughts in a couple of days. The Innaugural Just William's Luck Author Interview.