Jonathan Cape (2023)
Review by Delon Jessop
Jaqueline Crooks’ debut novel Fire Rush is a fresh, challenging view on love and music, and how they can shift and bend your very being.
Through the eyes of her central character, Yamaye, Crooks takes the reader on a musical journey. Yamaye and her close-knit girlfriends are in love with the London dub scene of the late 1970s; raving is a weekly staple of their world. An underground vault beneath the local church is used by the West Indian population in Norwood for weekly dub dances. The Crypt, characterised by its shaking sound system and ganja smoke-filled interior, is the glue that brings the community together.
It’s here that Yamaye meets her true love, Moose. The pair embark on a whirlwind romance, with Moose presenting his alternative view of the world, never missing an opportunity to school the impressionable Yamaye. Just as the pair appear to be reaching a level of equilibrium, they are dealt a cruel and unexpected blow. It is this tragic setback that informs the second half of the novel. Yamaye descends into a journey of self-exploration, and this reckoning takes her west to Bristol where she becomes embroiled with the leader of a criminal gang. The jeopardy of her position is brought to light.
As the situation in Bristol becomes ever more unsettled, Yamaye flees to Jamaica in search of answers, and the chance to re-connect with her roots. Unfortunately, the past catches up unexpectedly, to her peril and to those around her.
I loved this novel from the very first page. Crooks’ use of language and the shape of her prose left me feeling that each line could have been plucked from a classic reggae anthem. I was drawn in by the melody of the writing, so much so that I decided to read a chapter aloud – something that I would recommend doing, something I haven’t done since my time as a student. Hearing the story aloud reinforced the lyrical swing of each sentence. In true Caribbean form, the characters uttered lines which were both profound and glaringly obvious, prompting me to snigger and nod along in equal measure.
Crooks succeeds in creating a London that is both familiar and strange. It made me reflect on the interplay of the world crafted by the novelist and the reality of the present day. Each of the characters is portrayed with nuance and balance, allowing you to quickly feel their respective plights. Crooks pulled me into her story with such pace, humour and clarity that, approaching the end of novel, I found myself wanting to slow down and savour my time in its carefully constructed world. Like any dub record worth its salt, this novel continues to reverberate deep inside me long past its end.