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Novels set in Cumbria
The Legend of Liz & Joe
The Legend of Liz & Joe
It’s 2008 and Joe Gladstone’s North Cumbrian gourmet guesthouse is losing a packet, not least because of the unusual requirements he makes of his would-be guests.
Meanwhile, his wife Liz has embarked on her first extramarital affair at the age of seventy, and has started having spiritual visions. John Murray’s latest comic extravaganza also features a wild dialect epic, set in 2018, about political tyranny and the tyranny of fashion, as well as some diverting table talk about the ethics of eating and drinking.
138mm x 215mm paperback
“T’ top gadger, Tommy Pullet. Him wat cem efter t’marraboy wat cem efter Cotton Bruin, wat cem efter Tant Blur”. We’re in John Murray’s west Cumbria. The year’s 2017. Long after the days of Gordon Brown and Tony Blair, and even longer after “Madgie Thunder”, Thomas Purley is prime-minister. He’s worried about the moral decay of the nation, as prime-ministers always are, and he’s come up with a novel solution to restore old fashioned values.
When he’d been a small lad his mother had been appalled at his snake belt and sent him into town to buy a pair of good old braces (guid owd gallusish). “They are plain, simple, well-meaning, innocent, respectable and you can hang all your best principles on them”.
He has decided that if only all men wore braces the country would return to the glory days of yore. And the place to start is good old Cumbria, the ideal place for a pilot project. There will be harsh penalties, even incarceration for all those malingerers who fail to wear their braces. And to enable the police to do their job properly, braces must be proudly displayed at all times. If you’re wearing a jersey or a jacket you have to loop them over your lugs.
Most Cumbrians quietly accept the political tyranny, but there is one man, Fenton Baggrow, who still retains the unvanquishable spirit of his Viking ancestors. He wages a one man campaign against the fascist fashion of Whitehall.
That is only part of the story. In fact is is a separate story called ‘Galluses Galore’ that old Joseph Chamberlain in entering in a £50000 competition for the best story in Cumberland dialect.
Joe needs the money because he has spent his inheritance from his uncle Harrison on a guest house in the middle of nowhere up beyond Brampton. Guests are specially selected. They have to submit an essay to their host to prove that they have the right cultural credentials. Then they are treated to exquisite vegetarian meals – John Murray supplies the recipes in mouth-watering detail –and regaled with tales of his forlorn love life. At the age of seventy his wife, Liz, is having her first extra-marital affair.
If all of this sounds too complicated, don’t worry.
The dialect story is a brilliant political satire on all powerful do-gooders. The story is written in standard English and then key phrases are translated or mistranslated to comic effect. “The peaceable and innocuous West Cumbrian port of Whitehaven” is “slippy and snurrin owd Whitehaven” while “the nearby amiably competitive township of Workington” is translated as “t’fenerable but envyus cappytal ev Hallydal”.
The novel is a wonderful gallimaufry of the idiotic and the idiosyncratic, John Murray at his very best and most entertaining. If you want to stew cabbage the way they do in Sichuan, hear an exposition of existential philosophy in broad Cumbrian, laugh at our political betters in all their patronising fatuousness, or simply want to be splendidly and hilariously entertained, then John Murray’s Ballad of Liz and Joe is the book for you
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