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Jabberwock

Author: Dara Kavanagh

Cover design: Marie Lane  

'Writers and characters all become one in this encyclopedic, dense, joyful and anarchic merry-go-round of a distorted reality, realist (come surrealist) novel of letters.

From page one, this is a novel where the surreal and real melt into one rollercoaster of language and literary cat and mouse.

The Protagonist: Hackettt, Ignatius, a fictional, down on his luck journalist who is behind on his rent and being harangued by his landlord.

It’s with Hackett the story travels, swirling and cavorting round a labyrinth of minor adventures and major syntactical incidents. It’s to the Palace Bar, where our hero, Hackett saunters. There he meets RM Smyllie, a fictionalized version of a real Irish Times editor. How do we know he’s real? Because the footnotes (to be found in small print on a large number of pages) say so. But can the footnotes be trusted? That’s the fun of it. It’s Smyllie who sends Hackett to England, on his adventure to track down and discover…

...Kavanagh holds a mirror up to the present day and steadily (if a little crazily) reflects back our own anxieties around language. The magic of creating words, supplementing language, and the mayhem of trying to control this process is masterfully captured in this brilliantly zany novel.'

Kevin Curran in Books Ireland

'Kavanagh shows a distinctly Joycean obsession with how words can splinter, compound, make for puns and evolve. The novel revels in typographical mayhem as we share Hackett’s bouts of linguistic vertigo: ‘Put simply, words and their parlous proximity had been the root cause of his illness.’ Jargon becomes pathologised as Hackett digs deeper into incidences of ‘lexical outrage’ plaguing wartime Europe, always with the threat that: ‘words had once before led to his committal in Swift’s Mad House — might they not do so again?’
Kavanagh’s subject is historical, his influences canonical, his title Carrollian, and yet he speaks – or, more aptly, babbles – to an era of fake news and digital rabbit holes. Language proves an unwieldy yet hilarious Wunderwaffe in this madcap novel, its meanings – delightfully, perilously – never fully in our control.’

Thomas Gilhooly in The Literary Review

'The ingenious plot hinges on the idea that words can take on a physical form (as they did to Carroll’s Humpty Dumpty) and then be weaponized, their original meaning altered or lost entirely. The story unfolds in a parallel version of the late 1930s, when, with Europe on the brink of war, a washed-up journalist called Ignatius Hackett is despatched from “Dubilin, Eireland” to “Logdon, Engeland” to investigate an epidemic of “verbal outrages” perpetrated by dissident republicans promoting a counterfeit lexicon that threatens to undermine the integrity of the English language and the stability of the British Empire.'

David Collard in The Times Literary Supplement

"Set in a parallel reality roughly a quark’s breadth from our own, Jabberwock is a laugh-out-loud love letter to language itself, and arguably the greatest treasure trove of terrible literary puns ever published."

Declan Burke in The Irish Times

"Kavanagh’s exhilarating novel isn’t so much alternative history as a parallel history...that on one level is a colossal, sustained play on words. (...) The reader who has a knowledge of German, and indeed Irish, will get the full force – and nuance – of the book’s gags, as in ‘Maulwurf and Leberfleck had been exposed as German moles,’ but even without such advantage, Kavanagh’s novel is an immensely enjoyable tour-de-force. Perhaps never before has the Italian expression ‘traduttore – traditore’ (translator – traitor) been so effectively applied as a plot device."

The Historical Novel Review

Among the best novels I’ve read during the year I have to include Jabberwock by Dara Kavanagh.

Brian Kirk's Blog

RRP: £12.99

No. of pages: 442

Publication date: 12.10.2023

Re-print date: 12.10.2023

ISBN numbers:
Paperback
978 1 915568 41 0
Ebook
978 1 915568 45 8

Rights:
World