We are thrilled to reveal the cover of The Inside-Out Man by renowned South African author Fred Strydom, which will release in May this year through Umuzi.
Brilliant jazz pianist Bent lives from gig to gig in a city of dead ends. He is plagued by fragmented visions of the past, and has resigned himself to a life of quiet desolation. That is, until the night he meets wealthy and eccentric jazz fan Leonard Fry.
In the days that follow, Leonard makes Bent a devilish deal, proposing a bizarre experiment in which Bent will play a vital part.
The deal provides an opportunity for Bent to start afresh, to question everything he knows, and for the two men to move beyond the one terrifying frontier from which neither of them can be sure they’ll ever return: the borders of their own sanity.
Fred Strydom’s novel The Inside-Out Man is a jazzy and surreal mind-bender of a book.
We asked Fred to tell us what music inspired him while he was writing the novel:
While I can’t profess to be an authority on jazz, I grew up with Brubeck, Davis, Getz and plenty of big band in house, as well as a heady supply from Elle, Nine, Billie and Etta. Since then, I’ve dipped in and out of the genre over the years and had my fair share of scattered favourites. For the purposes of drafting “The Inside Out Man”, however, a curious new world opened up, through doors I’m sure won’t ever completely close again. Here are some of the pieces that helped shape “The Inside Out Man”, my dark, novelistic riff on the jazz form… and anti-form. Enjoy.
Nina Simone - Strange Fruit
Regardless of its specific subject matter, namely, a part-protest, part-memorial response to the lynching of African-Americans, there are few songs that encapsulate the dark (and emotionally brutal) depths capable of being reached by jazz. Both haunted and haunting, this powerful and unforgettable track alone warrants jazz as my protagonist’s preferred genre. While Billie Holiday did it first, for my money, it’s hard to beat Ms. Simone’s rendition.
Art Tatum - Tea for Two
There’s something ironic about the quirkiness and “lightness” here, an unspoken depth that belies the exterior. For this reason, it was a clear choice to have my two main characters meet for the first time over tea, especially eccentric and subversive given that their fateful meeting takes place in a dingy jazz club.
Art Tatum - Sweet Lorraine
At the risk of giving away a key plot point, a particular fictional song within “The Inside Out Man” was based on this classic by Art Tatum. I changed the woman’s name but kept the “Sweet”. It’s also very much how I’ve always imagined the fictional song to sound, with the same level of finger wizardry, playfulness and effortless abandon.
Thelonius Monk – Straight, No Chaser
This man is cool. In preparation for the novel, I saw a documentary on his life and times and knew Mr Monk was the benchmark for what constituted jazz pianist greatness (in my layman’s mind, anyway). In “The Inside Out Man”, my protagonist’s favourite drink is whiskey and ginger ale, but I was more than once tempted to have him order his whiskey ”straight… no chaser”. In the end, I decided against it (a little on-the-nose and “Bond-ish”, my gut told me), but there you have it.
Oscar Peterson – C Jam Blues
On occasion, my main character is described as playing in a frenetic, feverish, almost possessed manner, and I really had to look no further than Oscar Peterson’s “C Jam Blues” for inspiration – a steadily-ramping, dizzyingly brilliant piece by a true master. Rebellious. Breathless. Confident. A true vestige of the musical dark arts.
Ella Fitzgerald & Louis Armstrong – Dream a Little Dream Of Me
One of two songs on this list that get an actual mention in the book, this gorgeous little classic was picked to accomplish two things: an idealistic, tender and yet delicately melancholic introduction to our equally idealistic, tender and melancholic leading lady, as well as a hint of lyrical foreshadowing. I’ll say no more.
Tommy Flanagan – Alone Too Long
Even madness needs a moment to mellow, and this is it. Precisely the kind of introspective, deeply personal piece I imagine my musician playing on those nights in which he has the audience in firm and silent grasp. Honest. Empathetic. Unpretentious. A lone profile light over a lone pianist at a lone piano. You get the picture.
Television – Marquee Moon
The second track to get a mention in the book, this isn’t jazz in any way (beside the obvious, rudimentary influences jazz has had on all forms of rock). Rather, this is one of the most underrated seventies rock songs by one of rock history’s most underrated bands, the roughshod desperadoes known as “Television”. Used to jarring effect in “The Inside Out Man”, the single “Marquee Moon” (off the endlessly influential album of the same name) is one of the most timeless, dissonant and curiously melodic rock opuses to be released in the last century. Listen through from beginning to end on the best set of headphones in the house.
Read an EXCLUSIVE EXTRACT from The Inside-Out Man:
I’d already found my grey suit jacket, the one I’d worn only twice some years ago. All I needed was a tie. The first time I’d worn the suit had been at an interview for a call-centre job (which lasted a week before my tiny cubicle and stack of weak leads plunged me into an existential quandary). The second occasion was a Halloween party I attended as a demonic lawyer. Good look, mind you – suit, briefcase and flaming red face with horns. That had been the last time. Since then, the jacket had wrinkled at the collar and the shoulders had lost their shape. Also, it wouldn’t button up without giving me the Heimlich manoeuvre.
Finally, I found a tie, one I’d probably borrowed from someone a very long time ago (I don’t think I’ve ever actually bought a tie). I put it on, then grabbed my black shoes from the bottom of my bedroom wardrobe, and sat on the armchair near the window to polish them. I slipped them on, and did up the laces. Opening the wardrobe, I combed my hair in the full-length mirror on the inside of the door. I parted my hair to the right, created a neat path of white scalp, and combed the sides flat. I tightened the noose of my tie, and patted the front of my jacket.
For at least a minute, I stared at my own reflection, waiting for it to say something, explain itself, burst out laughing.
But the man in the mirror didn’t move.
A man in a shabby suit with a hard and expressionless face in a shitty apartment, with nothing to say for himself. My eyes turned to the wall clock, and I closed the wardrobe door.
The funeral was in half an hour; it’d take a good twenty minutes by car.
The taxi arrived. It hooted twice, waited a minute, and then hooted again. I didn’t move. I stood in my apartment like a stranger in a foreign place. My suit was tight as a straitjacket and my hard shoes were cramping my feet. I leant against the wall, unable to breathe.
The walls began to warp, bulge and close in, as if to suffocate me. The mirror went mercurial in its frame, twisting the room. Twisting me. The car hooted again, and the walls and mirror flattened. Back to normal. My breath found its rhythm. I sat in the frayed corner armchair, stared at nothing for the longest while, dressed like the dead man himself.
And then, finally, the hooting stopped altogether.