Book review: Jago by Kim Newman

I loved An English Ghost Story so much I decided to leap straight away into another book by Newman, Jago.  While Jago deals with some of the same themes it is a very different book altogether.

Jago is set in the fictional Somerset village of Alder.  It is a baking hot summer and the temporary and permanent residents of the village, including a local cult headed by the titular Anthony William Jago, are preparing for an annual large music festival.  Alder contains a mix of characters, some who’s families have been in the area for generations, others are incomers for the season, and several thousand descending for the festival.

Of course, it’s not all going to go smoothly, you find this book in the horror section after all.  I was in no way prepared for quite how badly it would go.  The area around Alder has a history of supernatural manifestation.  There are several locals who could be described as pshycopaths before anything unusual starts to take place.

At the centre of all that happens is Jago.  We meet him for the first time half way through the novel, and he only speaks once.  His silence and inaction while unusual for a central character, perfectly fit Jago.  After all he makes things happens, he doesn’t need to talk to people or make connections, he doesn’t need to explain himself – his greatness should be evident to all.  As with all people who believe themselves great, the only thing that is evident is an imbalanced mind and a possible personality disorder.  However Jago has more abilities than most self-serving narcissistic cult leaders – he literally can make your fantasies come true.  He’ll bring out the worst in you.

This is the major theme  in both Jago and Ghost Story.  The evil, it’s inside you.  There are no monsters, other than the ones we create ourselves.  However while Ghost Story illuminates this point with elegance and restraint, Jago does exactly the opposite.  It’s kind of like Hironimous Bosch on the worst trip possible.  Two thirds through the 678 pager and I felt confused, disorientated, wasn’t sure what was going on, or where to turn to for help – like 98% of the characters.

Really good horror isn’t just about fear.  The genre would be called Fear if it was.  It’s a potent mix of fear AND disbelief.  It’s the disbelief that Newman really mines in Jago.  If he’d told the story of just one of his characters, there would be miasma, but the multiple view points result in miasma and discombobluation.  It’s a binge of disbelief, and like all binging, you’re going to feel icky afterwards.

Ultimately if you want to feel more comfortable with your horror, go for Ghost Story.  If you want to feel impossibly lost in a vision of the world that is relentlessly overwhelming with no chance of stabilisation, Jago is your man.

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