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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

Jack Be Nimble

Nigel Williams

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To purchase Jack Be Nimble

Title: Jack Be Nimble
Author: Nigel Williams
Genre: Novel
Written: 1980
Length: 213 pages
Availability: Jack Be Nimble - UK

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Our Assessment:

B : decent, odd little novel

See our review for fuller assessment.

The complete review's Review:

       Jack Be Nimble, presented in three parts, focusses mainly on Jack Warliss. Jack is unsure of what he wants and expects from life. He pursues -- in a creative way -- several possibilities, but stark reality eventually catches up with him.
       Jack is not just Jack. He is also known as Luke Danby. Or Terry Jarlsberg. He's married, to Annie. And he has a child, known as Egbert, with Lucy. And then there's Nelly, too.
       Jack leads more than a double life: Jack leads many lives. But all are unsatisfactory -- and all eventually catch up with him.
       Jack manages, for a while, to keep his identities and lives separate. Annie and Lucy don't know about each other. When Jack is asked to write an episode of The Wheebles he can even suggest that's more in Luke Danby's line.
       Eventually, however, his worlds intersect, collide, and blow up mightily in his face. The women come together, and rather than competitively tugging for Jack's attention they more or less just put up with him. They understand: Jack (or whatever name he is going by) isn't who they should pin their hopes on. Jack is hopeless. Jack is also jelly. Indeed:

Not only was he a jelly, he was also a hack. A hack jelly.
       Life ebbs to surprising lows by the middle of the book, as Jack finds himself sharing digs with Spielman, Snaps, and Little Luke -- a sad lot of men (and a baby) who muddle along oblivious of practically everything. He's reduced to writing for Herbert's Boys -- a show even lower than The Wheebles -- leaving him as "a Jelly Despair".
       Eventually the women come to play a larger role in his life again, even as they try to reshape their lives without men (and especially this particular man) as the focus. There are demonstrations to attend (Annie is a committed if occasionally confused and confounded (and tame) communist). There are pregnancies.
       Jack Be Nimble is a portrait of a changing society, and of muddling through. Williams does a fine job with his characters: Jack and especially the women are nicely realized. There's comic fun here -- and bizarre (and often too-real domestic) antics. And there's some poignancy as well. It's a decent novel, but it reads a bit dated and a bit forced: like Jack, Williams might be trying to do too much. A more tightly focussed book might have been preferable -- but then one wouldn't have that same feeling of aimless drifting and things spinning out of one's control, so central to almost all the characters.

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Other books by Nigel Williams under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Contemporary British fiction at the complete review

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About the Author:

       British author Nigel Williams was born in 1948. He has written a number of novels and several plays.

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© 2002-2010 the complete review

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