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Written by Victoria Joss
The irony of focusing on Joss' gender, not music
As the novel opens, the first paragraph sees Millie trying to ignore the many journalists trying to question her about the revelation that Joss was biologically female. After Joss’ death, this scandal is what the public focus on, and not Joss’ undeniable talents as a jazz musician. Kay then perhaps suggests that this is a misplaced irony, and one that should not be occurring. The chapter displaying the reaction of Big Red McCall reiterates this sense of wrong. He refuses to remember Joss as a transgender individual worth gossiping about, but keeps sacred the memory of him as simply a being that was extremely talented. This irony also presents the predatory nature of humans. No matter how accomplished the individual is in life, the press will still jump on any scandal post-mortem.
The irony of Milile's grief as common
The reader is acutely aware of Millie’s grief, and Kay dedicates whole chapters to the widow’s experience and process of moving through the grief. We witness Millie recalling their courting days, early family life, and the records he made as a musician. By going through this process completely alone in their holiday home in Torr, Millie feels loneliness as well as loss. This is lessened slightly by her realization that many women go through the same stages of grief when their husband die. Yet, there is also a sad sense of irony. Millie feels as if her love was so strong, and to such a unique man, yet her grief is as common as the next woman’s. It is this realized irony that prompts Millie to start returning to normal life, and out of her depths of depression.
The irony of Sophie Stones' ambition
Soon after the reader is introduced to Sophie Stones, the journalist wanting to exploit Joss’ family for the sake of her own success, there is an insight to her family life. She reveals that she has an infinitely more successful sister, and constantly feels as if she has to prove her worth in the family also. This brands every action she takes against the Moody family as ironic; she wants to be something in her family, but wants to achieve it by tearing up another. This is especially ironic, as Sophie is obviously aware of the importance of opinion within families, yet constantly encourages Colman to critique his Father and the choice to keep his biology a secret.
The irony of Colman fixating on his Father's biological sex
When Colman discovers that his Father is biologically female, his reaction is understandably one of extreme confusion. In working through his issues relating to this discovery, Colman fixates on his Father’s lack of penis. This also leads to him feeling he has to prove his own extreme masculinity, which he does by engaging in sexual relations with Sophie Stones, and imagining his genitals as overly large. Yet, this fixation on biology is ironic when it is considered that Colman is adopted. Joss was his Father in every way but biologically, yet Colman obsesses over the fact he had no penis, despite not being created by him. This is a small irony, but still important. It presents the impact that sexuality has on the role of being Father. For Colman, it is irrelevant whether Joss biologically fathered him; he is instead concerned with how this affects his own fragile masculinity.
The irony in the structure
Kay structures the book to have different perspectives from different people in separate chapters. Critics have often suggested this is to provide a realistic reaction across the whole social spectrum, from those who knew Joss, and those who did not. Yet, there is also an irony in Joss’ lack of voice. The novel begins with Joss’ death, therefore the reader can only gauge his characteristics from other people’s memory of him. For a narrative that attempts to defend the choices that Joss made in his life, it ironically doesn’t contain his own voice until the very end. Kay seeks to give a voice to the transgender community, but controversially does not allow Joss’ to intrude straight away. This perhaps presents a similar experience for the reader also, who learn about Joss’ life second-hand through other narratives.
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