The Accidental Recluse by Tom McCulloch
Publisher: Sandstone Press
Publication date: 15 March 2018
Genre: Contemporary/literary fiction
Page count: 340 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
I was so pleased when Sandstone Press reached out about reviewing this book. Although it is outside the genres I have been reading lately, I was intrigued by the synopsis and the settings.
Johnny Jackson has just turned 75. He used to be famous, but his dead brother Duke was a hero. Self-made and unmade, film director and tycoon, all people remember about Johnny is the Music Hall monkey. Exiled for years, he’s heading home from his Japanese bunker, reluctantly – one last blockbuster and a civic honouring. But forget the adulation, the protests about his company and the concern of his security that he may be a target, Johnny just can’t shake Duke. This is a novel about brothers, lovers and all that’s lost in the longing to get what you want.
The Accidental Recluse is one of those rare books that is both a slow burn and a compulsive read. JJ’s story is tragic, compelling, and undeniably humorous. He takes us through his journey from music hall performer to film star to director, and finally to recluse. From JJ’s quiet home in Japan to the sprawling Scottish countryside, the settings in this book give it a unique flavour that makes it hard to put down. I sometimes struggle with dual timelines — one always seems more interesting than the other or the transition between the two periods can feel choppy — but the shifts in time were blended seamlessly and both time periods were equally compelling.
The plot and setting are important, but this book is really all about Johnny Jackson, or JJ. He’s our narrator and therefore his thoughts, reflections, and reactions guide our understanding of his story. JJ is a sharp and witty, but he’s also jaded and just so tired. He is one of those people who uses humour as a coping mechanism, but you really get the sense of the sorrow he’s hiding from us as the story progresses. In this way, JJ is both an extremely sympathetic character and an unreliable narrator. He doesn’t reveal anything to us that he doesn’t have to.
What’s so much fun about having JJ as our narrator is the way he reacts to the situations he finds himself in. As the narrative unfolds, we learn of stalker who seems to know more about JJ’s past and secrets than they should. The dance between this figure and JJ, who is refered to as the Shinigami by this person, is one of my favourite parts of the book. The way JJ reacts to the vaguely threatening and unnerving messages from this character is unexpected and strangely delightful. This is one of the things that I found so fascinating about him — it’s like he knows we’re peeking into his life and he’s trying to keep us on our toes to spite us.
The past is just as important as the present as JJ goes on his journey back to his childhood home. His brother Duke has long since passed away, but he remains a constant figure in JJ’s life. It’s hard to tell whether Duke’s presence in JJ’s mind is welcome or not, but the love that JJ feels for his brother is tangible, despite the dysfunctional relationship they had. I really loved this sibling dynamic and the way their relationship is revealed as the book unfolds. In fact, the relationships between all the characters are strong — from Duke to Anna, JJ to his father, even if they’re tragic each person has a fully realised character arc.
Equal parts funny and heartbreaking, The Accidental Recluse is a book that will stay with you, even after you’ve finished the last pages. There is a lot that I could talk about here, but you should pick this one up on your own. This is one of the few books I’ve read in which the characters feel like real people — I sometimes forgot that I was reading a novel rather than a memoir. I’d recommend this book for long time readers of contemporary fiction, but also for readers of historical fiction who would like to step into a new, more literary part of their genre.
Want to purchase The Accidental Recluse? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):
If you’re in the Oxford area tomorrow, you can hear Tom McCulloch himself talk about this book! I’ll be interviewing him at Blackwells in the Westgate Centre at 7:30 for the launch of The Accidental Recluse. Come by and say hi!
Have you read The Accidental Recluse? Is it in your TBR? Does it sound like a book you’d be interested in? Let me know!