-Reviewed by Charlotte Barnes-
Byker Books, in their own words, began their publishing mission with the aim of publishing and providing a voice for working class authors. While it may not seem like a particularly clear mission statement, when you delve into their catalogue of books, it soon becomes apparent that they are representing the gritty side of literature.
A fine example of this is One Day in the Life of Jason Dean, a Kindle-only novella from Essex-born Ian Ayris. The short and bittersweet text is one of the best novellas I have read in recent months, littered with powerful scenes and sentiments that will grab you by the shoulders and shake you until your emotions fall out.
The premise of the plot, as you may have deciphered from the title, is that the reader is weaved throughout an average day in the life of hard man protagonist, Jason Dean. Within the pages of this novella we are escorted throughout the urban side of town where Jason lives and works. In his role as debt-collector, thug and general dogsbody for the hardest man in town, Jason finds himself in an array of emotionally challenging situations which we as readers are also forced to experience. Through this first person narrative delivered by Jason we become intimately intertwined with his character, learning not only of his professional encounters but also of his personal ones, due to his frequent references to Beth, the wife that can no longer stand him, and Sophie, the daughter he clearly adores.
Perhaps on paper this novella doesn’t seem to offer anything outstanding but the execution of this plot is practically flawless in every way. The harsh perspective offered by tell-it-how-it-is Jason not only shows us the brutality of life but also the beauty of it, two things he naturally juxtaposes against each other.
An admirable quality of the text is the construction of Jason in a psychological sense – as a character he is truly fascinating. Amidst the bludgeoning, beating and cursing, Ayris has littered beautiful and completely unexpected excerpts of some of the most legendary poetic verse that England has to offer, ranging from Emily Dickinson to Wilfred Owen. It is Jason’s knowledge of these things that makes him such a captivating character – he is an artistically educated thug. Through the inclusion of classic poetry and prose, every challenging moment of this novella is heightened even further; the challenging moments in the text are met with poetic responses, highlighting the juxtaposition of brutality and beauty previously mentioned. The emotional reaction to murder is traumatic alone, but a brutal murder followed by beautiful poetic verse or enlightening prose does strange but brilliant things to this text which completely altered my reading of it. A clever technique to say the least, the extracts alone contribute to this top quality narrative before Jason’s character is even considered.
The in-depth understanding of the character, achieved through narrative style, is also central to the style and success of this text. We are inevitably drawn into the character’s vision; we see what he sees, we comprehend his emotional and intellectual reactions to everything he suffers through, we are in this book regardless of our reluctance to be drawn into the unsavoury world that it depicts.
Despite our reluctance to believe in the world in which Jason resides, we would be ignorant to deny its existence away from the page. Ayris should be commended for his depiction of a harsh but true reality, whilst also giving a reading audience a unique insight into the minds that live within it.
One Day in the Life of Jason Dean is a fine example of edgy literature that captures the grit and grime of life that literature so often chooses to ignore. Taking the likes of Dickinson and Owen out of their respective poetry collections and dumping them into the backstreets of rundown housing estates was a stroke of genius from Ayris, perhaps it was a similar stroke of genius that dictated Jason’s appreciation and knowledge of these authors. The text, if nothing else, will demonstrate to readers two very clear sides of what is often thought to be a one-sided coin, through highlighting the presence of intellect in an area in which society doesn’t expect to find it.
The novella was an absolute pleasure to read and I have no hesitation in recommending this to anyone looking for something that pushes the boundaries of conventional literature.