‘When words cease to cling close to things, kingdoms fall, empires wane and diminish.’ Ezra Pound’s maxim is so fitting it is surprising that Dara Kavanagh did not use it as an epigraph. Jabberwock takes Pound literally: during the Second World War a counterfeit language is coined and disseminated by an elusive underground ‘brotherhood’ to sabotage Britain. We follow (albeit in a charmingly digressive manner) the various ventures of a journalist named Hackett throughout Europe as he tries to get to grips with this fake language gone viral.
Kavanagh shows a distinctly Joycean obsession with how words can splinter, compound, make for puns and evolve. The novel revels in typographical mayhem as we share Hackett’s bouts of linguistic vertigo: ‘Put simply, words and their parlous proximity had been the root cause of his illness.’ Jargon becomes pathologised