(Original review posted on my livejournal account: http://intoyourlungs.livejournal.com/37206.html)Why I Read It:
Assigned for my Religious Themes in Literature class.
Like Mootoo Shati's Cereus Blooms at Night, Jackie Kay's Trumpet explores the complexity of sexuality and gender. The novel follows the aftermath of the great jazz trumpeter Joss Moody, and follows his wife as she deals with the grief that comes with losing him. We also follow his son Colman, as he struggles with the revelation that his father was in fact born with a female body.
What Kay addresses beautifully in this novel is how people have the tendency to conflate sexuality and gender identity. Joss' wife Millicent knew from before they were married that Joss had a female body bu she didn't care. She loved JOSS, who identified as a man and thus they both still identified as straight. But in the aftermath of Joss's death and the revelation of the gender he was born with, people assume that Millie is a lesbian. This lack of understanding, or willingness to understand drives Millie crazy and she's forced to retreat to her summer home to get away.
Colman was interesting character because despite his disgust at his father's choices he was still a sympathetic character, even when HE himself wasn't making the best choices. It's understandable that he would question his own gender identity when he identifies as male and modeled his masculinity after someone who turns out to NOT be biologically male. That's got to be mind-boggling, especially when you're not expecting and you're already reeling from grief. His reactions to his father's death also displayed an incredible level of complexity with the exploration of his grief and anger.
Reading Sophie's bits were easily the hardest parts to read as she was easily the most frustrating and unlikable character (though she's obviously meant to be). Her desperate search for the REASON for Joss's choice of identifying as male was angering: she pegged it on Joss's wanting to be a famous trumpeter and not being able to do it as a female, on the death of Joss's father at a young age, and on the fact that Joss was obviously just a pervert who got a kick out of tricking people. We as readers KNOW this is all bullshit of course, but unfortunately it's the attitude a lot of people adopt when it comes to transgendered people which is really sad.
Kay's writing is also worth noting; along with addressing very complex issues, she's an incredibly talented and crafty writer. Throughout the novel, she utilizes several points-of-view from several different characters and uses them all to great effect: We have a first-person POV of Colman when he's being interviewed by Sophie, one where he's NOT being interviewed by her, a third-person POV from him, a first-person POV from Millie, first-person from Sophie, as well as at least three more first-person POVs from other adjacent characters. In under 300 pages that's A LOT of POVs and when written down like that, it sounds like way too much. But Kay pulls it off. Each different POV draws out something different from the story and it never comes off as messy.
Oh, and I don't want to reveal too much, but I also loved the ending. Essentially, you're lead to believe that it's going to be one thing, but it ends being something completely different, and for that I was really happy -- it could have taken the obvious route, but then it would have undermined everything it had set out to do. Again, Kay is a great writer who obviously knows what's she doing.Final Verdict:
I loved this book and thinks it's a wonderful example of GLBTQ lit with a focus on transgendered people. Kay explores the complexities of gender identity and sexuality with a deft hand and this is a book I think I could read over and over again and get more out of it every time. The psychology of the characters is spot-on and they are just as complex as the subject matter of the book. The writing was also excellent and Kay displays an incredible handle on POV as she uses A LOT throughout the course of this relatively short novel and pulls it off magnificently.