The Ballad of Lee Cotton by Christopher Wilson - review by Martyn Bedford

Martyn Bedford

All Mixed Up

The Ballad of Lee Cotton


Little, Brown 320pp £14.99 order from our bookshop

This is one of those novels which is almost impossible to review without revealing at least some key elements of the plot. So, if you don’t want to know what happens, look away now. But, before you leave us, make sure you lay your hands on a copy of The Ballad of Lee Cotton. You’re unlikely to read a more effervescent, more uplifting, more original novel this year. Right, let’s get on with spoiling the story for you. Here it is, in a nutshell, in the hero’s own words: ‘I grew up a white black boy. Now I’m turning into a black white woman.’ In telling you the ‘what’ – the pitch, in Hollywood-speak – I’ll take care not to divulge too much of the ‘how’ and the ‘why’, because this is where the joy of Christopher Wilson’s novel resides, and where he marries ingenious premise to dazzling execution. And, of course, I wouldn’t dream of giving away the ending.

We join Lee Cotton’s tale at birth, cussed and screamed into existence by his mama, a mixed-race woman in a poor black district of semi-rural Mississippi. It’s the 1950s in the Deep South, and Klan law rules. Being born black ain’t so great. But Lee is born white, all superficial

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