Released: April 2014
We’ve all experienced the sheer hell of motorway traffic jams. You sit in your car, sandwiched between various other metal boxes with wheels, utterly powerless to alter the situation. So you wait. Then you wait some more. People sigh and they huff, they speculate about what’s causing the standstill, and they curse the blasted motorway – because naturally it’s the motorway’s fault. Now imagine that scene remaining the same for hours upon hours, as the mother of all tailbacks becomes your home for a night. This is the setting for Jake Wallis Simons’ Jam.
As darkness falls on the M25, time passes without a hint of movement from any of the cars on the road. Drivers eventually switch off their engines, people observe the outside world from behind the safety of metal and glass, and others get out of their cars in order to strike up conversation with those nearest. Time continues to tick by and tensions mount as tiredness, hunger and frustration take over.
Stuck in the jam are a husband and wife arguing over their strained marriage, a young doctor musing over her unconventional beliefs, three University students with a penchant for drugs, and a van of volatile racists watching a group of Asian teenagers. In the most precarious position sits a Waitrose delivery driver, who feels the weight of aggravated eyes on his van and its contents. What starts as a semi-cordial scene bubbles under the surface like a pressure cooker ready to explode.
Jake Wallis Simons’ bold and perceptive state-of-the-nation novel is like a ticking time bomb. Bringing together characters from all walks of life and allowing them to collide in the urban, metal-scape of the M25 is an eye-opening experience. By addressing issues of race, infidelity, morality and environment, Wallis Simons invites us to look at the way we treat the world and those around us. His story doesn’t attempt to change the way we think but rather gives us a glimpse of modern society and how we respond to people, places and situations. It’s not always pretty but it’s honest. How would you react to a motorway traffic jam with minimal food & water, no mobile signal and no knowledge of what’s going on or how long you might be stuck for?
The constant shifting of viewpoints is like a camera moving from car to car, sharing the inner thoughts and feelings of each character. There aren’t any heroes in this book; just normal people with the same struggles and insecurities anyone could face. You might find a character you openly relate to or begrudgingly share qualities with, either way it’s the type of novel that could very well occur in real life – perhaps it actually has in some way, shape or form. What’s clever is that the M25 seems to be a character in itself, harsh and bleak yet an important part of contemporary culture and Britain’s history.
Despite an uplifting ending which helps to restore the reader’s faith in humanity – or at least a portion of it – Jam is a novel that openly displays the rotten core of society – one of intolerance for those whose actions, thoughts or appearance don’t conform to the ‘norm’. Absorbing and observant, Jam casts a new light on the seemingly mundane structure that is the M25. I’ll probably be sticking to country roads for the foreseeable future though, just to be on the safe side.