Hell of a Book

Jason Mott

Hell of a Book
Orion Publishing Co
United Kingdom
31 January 2023

Hell of a Book

Jason Mott

Winner of the National Book Award for Fiction 2021

In Jason Mott’s Hell of a Book, a Black author sets out on a cross-country publicity tour to promote his bestselling novel. That storyline drives Hell of a Book and is the scaffolding of something much larger and urgent: since Mott’s novel also tells the story of Soot, a young Black boy living in a rural town in the recent past, and The Kid, a possibly imaginary child who appears to the author on his tour.

As these characters’ stories build and build and converge, they astonish. For while this heartbreaking and magical book entertains and is at once about family, love of parents and children, art and money, it’s also about the nation’s reckoning with a tragic police shooting playing over and over again on the news. And with what it can mean to be Black in America.

Who has been killed? Who is The Kid? Will the author finish his book tour, and what kind of world will he leave behind? Unforgettably told, with characters who burn into your mind and an electrifying plot ideal for book club discussion, Hell of a Book is the novel Mott has been writing in his head for the last ten years. And in its final twists it truly becomes its title. 


Jason Mott’s first novel, The Returned, was a bestseller back in 2013: top of the charts, TV adaptation, the whole nine yards. In writing this new book, his fourth, Mott has drawn on memories of that long-ago whirlwind book tour. This nameless narrator is on the publicity trail for his first novel, titled – guess what? – Hell of a Book, and he’s not so much unreliable as indecipherable, even to himself. He can’t even remember what his book is about and he blanks out during bookshop appearances, although when he comes around, everybody seems most impressed by what he has just said. Which is fine by him.

Turns out that these memory lapses have less to do with the alcohol-soaked, sex-drenched fugue of the book tour and more to do with the hallucinations leaking out of him like sweat. As he confesses to us, ‘I’ve got a condition: I’m a writer,’ and his hyperactive imagination is working overtime, inserting fictional people into the world around him. The hallucinations often appear related to the parallel narrative presented in Mott’s book: the story of a young Black boy growing up under parents who go to extreme lengths to protect him from racism. Part of the anticipation of reading this book is wondering when and how these two narrative streams are going to cross over.

A raw, wounded novel that’s also wincingly funny when Mott wields a fine simile –‘breathless like a fish that woke up on the Empire State Building’ – Hell of a Book places its comically flawed, mega-successful Black narrator against the backdrop of the deeply entrenched racism and murders spotlighted by the Black Lives Matter movement. It is simultaneously a metafictional satire of the book business and a scream into the rotten, racist heart of the USA.

Bernard Calleo is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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