Nationality: English. Born: Great Harwood, Lancashire, England, 1959 or 1960. Education: Graduated in Theatre Studies from Dartington College of Arts; University of East Anglia, M.A. 1992. Career: Founder and singer-songwriter for band, variously called The Screaming Abdabs and The Dinner Ladies, 1980s. Agent: Derek Johns, 20 John Street, London WC1N 2DR, England.
The Underground Man. New York, William Morrow, 1997.
Rock the World (muscial recording, with others). New York, Select Records, 1985.* * *
In 1997 Mick Jackson's debut novel, The Underground Man, was short-listed for both the popular Whitbread Best First Novel award, and the internationally coveted Booker McConnell prize. While it won neither, it nevertheless garnered much praise for the inventive treatment of its subject, the real life fifth Duke of Portland, William John Cavendish-Bentinck-Scott. The Duke, a reclusive eccentric, is as much remembered for the extensive network of tunnels he constructed under his estate as for the popular myths his peculiarities inspired. Combining the factual record with the public and authorial imagination, Jackson created a narrative that weaves through the mind and journals of the Duke and the thoughts of those who encounter him. The tunnels themselves serve as the unifying motif of the novel, providing a parallel to the internal burrowing of the Duke as he retreats further into himself, finally severing his already tenuous connection with the outside world and the human contact that governs it. In the character of the elderly Duke, Jackson explores a mind unsuited for the everyday world, lacking the ability to discriminate between ideas, and betrayed by the aging body that contains it. Even in the face of this betrayal, the Duke attempts to maintain control over both the physical property of the body, and the physical property of the estate—the logical extension of the self for a titled property owner—and it is his failure to recognize his own limitations in both that brings the novel to its startling conclusion.
Not merely imaginative historical fiction, The Underground Man signals a contemporary tendency to mine the past for the purposes of considering contemporary preoccupations with the individual, the relationship between the self and other, and the possibilities and limits of both humanity and the human intellect. That Jackson bestows upon the Duke a childlike innocence, curiosity, and enthusiasm, however, provides both humor and pathos to the novel, and ensures that its theoretical preoccupations never alienate the reader or disrupt the trajectory of the story itself.
Ultimately, the narrative of The Underground Man is very much an act of story telling, and Jackson himself is not unqualified as a storyteller. Trained as an actor at the Dartington College of Arts (1983), Jackson has written and directed several short films. Previously he also wrote lyrics for a number of bands with which he performed at the Glastonbury and Reading rock festivals: Dancing with the Dog, The Screaming Abdabs, and The Dinner Ladies. When his bandmates complained that his lyrics were becoming unwieldy, Jackson moved to poetry, and then short story writing. In 1991, with only a few short stories to his credit, Jackson was accepted into the prestigious University of East Anglia (Norwich) Creative Writing M.A. program. The program's literary pedigree is impeccable, and it boasts an impressive list of alumni, including Andrew Cowan, Kazuo Ishiguro, Deirdre Madden, Ian McEwan, and Rose Tremain. Today Jackson has joined UEA's list of successful and recognized graduates.
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