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Review: Shine On, Marquee Moon by Zoe Howe January 2, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.
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Shine on, Marquee Moon by Zoe Howe

Another Netgalley review.

This is… an odd book. I’m not sure it knows what it wants to be, and I’m not sure what the author was trying to do, and I’m not sure how much of the author’s initial vision made it to the finished product. Was it an expose of the rock band lifestyle? A romance/chicklit novel set in the music world? A parodic take on people in the music biz? A suspenseful tale of the kinds of madness fame and the loss of it can generate? A postmodern exercise in violating the norms of novelistic storytelling? All of the above, probably. Depends which page you’re on.

The plot: the narrator works for an 80s band having a successful comeback, and she’s in a relationship with one of the band members. SPOILERS: just as they’re planning their wedding, he goes back on heroin, putting their relationship at risk, at the same time that a new guy comes into her life, and other events threaten the band as a whole. Will she stay with her emotionally crippled junkie, or go for the wholesome, open, nice new guy? Will the manager keep the band together? Will there be any explanation of how the first person narrator can describe not only events she’s not present for, but even view events from other characters’ perspectives, sometimes switching from her own perspective to another character’s viewpoint in the space of a paragraph? (For the last one, at least: no.)

Zoe Howe has mainly written nonfiction before, which may be the source of the shifting POV problems. I have her book on the Jesus and Mary Chain but haven’t read it yet. My only concern about reading other books by her is her openness to flakiness, which at times looked like it was going to lead the book in a supernatural direction, as if there wasn’t enough going on already.

The other issue: Howe starts the book talking about the importance of shared musical taste in a very Nick Hornby High Fidelityesque manner, with her narrator being almost insistent that a potential partner who doesn’t love Television’s Marquee Moon as much as she does is probably not worth continuing with. But her fiance, who supposedly loves the album as much as she does, plays in a cartoonish Duran Duran-style band. Not quite the same kind of music as Television. And the potential new love interest — I think there may be one mention that he likes the album, but that’s about it. In the afterword Howe mentions wanting to do more in the book relating to Marquee Moon, but it didn’t happen, partly due to the cost of getting clearance to quote lyrics. It might have been a good idea to drop it entirely, because it probably doesn’t mean anything to a lot of the book’s possible audience, while those who recognize the reference and know the album are going to wonder why they’re reading about an over-the-top British New Romantic band.

A little personal context: I loved High Fidelity, I quite like Marquee Moon, and I liked some of the New Romantic bands a lot, too, though this lot come across much more Duran Duran than Ultravox or Visage. I had some high hopes for this book because I remember how the Bridget Jones Diaries books were promoted in some places as being like a woman’s version of High Fidelity or Fever Pitch, but what Helen Fielding failed to do was give her flawed and unlucky in love protagonist any great passion — any kind of interests or hobbies beyond drinking and whingeing. So Shine On, Marquee Moon looked like what I was looking for back then. And now, for that matter. I haven’t found much of Hornby’s output after High Fidelity particularly enjoyable.

I didn’t hate the book. It kept me reading, and aside from POV issues, the prose was readable. But too many characters were one-dimensional, and neither the humour and suspense really paid off. I’d call it a somewhat fun but seriously flawed first try.


Goodbye, Johnny Thunders by Tania Kindersley

Edited a bit later: So I’m on the living room floor hanging out with Katie cat in front of one of the bookcases (hardcovers and trade paperbacks, literary/mainstream/historical, authors A-L), and I notice something I’d forgotten: the book Goodbye, Johnny Thunders, by Tania Kindersley. Woman in London, romance, music, hipster New York music reference, there are definite connections to be made. Kindersley’s book, based on my dim memories of reading it twenty years ago, was a bit more coherently written than Howe’s book, if (as should be obvious from its not being mentioned above) not necessarily very memorable. But at the very least the two books are linked by Richard Hell, who spent time in a band with members of Television and another with Johnny Thunders. He’s also written novels of his own — Go Now, for example. Come to think of it, I think I’ve read that, too. But I digress. Howe isn’t the first to explore this kind of territory, and I hope she won’t be the last, because the book I’m waiting for hasn’t really been written yet.


Review: The Lovecraft Squad: All Hallows Horror by John Llewellyn Probert January 2, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Lovecraft.
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cover102520-mediumAnother Netgalley free read in exchange for a review. With opinions and spoilers.

Lovecraft Squad? Misleading advertising, it seems to me. This is supposed to be the first of a series of books inspired by the works of HP Lovecraft. You could probably delete no more than a hundred words and no one reading it then would make a connection to Lovecraft.

After some strange experiences, including experiencing visions of swarms of the undead and encountering magically powerful pages of a lost Chaucer manuscript, a group of people find themselves investigating an allegedly haunted church. Strange and evil things happen, and before you know it, three of the surviving characters find themselves undertaking a long and arduous journey through Dante’s Inferno, at the end of which lies the Anarch, a giant insectoid servant of Hell. There are a few passing references to Lovecraftian story elements that don’t really work here. They feel more like they were grafted on at the last minute. There’s none of Lovecraft’s cosmic horror; this is coming out of a much more generically Judeo-Christian worldview than Lovecraft ever had.

So, looking at it as a horror novel rather than a Lovecraftian one, how does it work? Well, there are spooky and suspenseful moments, especially earlier on, but once the long journey through Hell begins, it’s just one thing after another with no real suspense. Enter an area of hell that’s based on one of Dante’s nine circles of Hell, struggle to find the way through to the next circle, repeat. All that to find out what’s actually going on. A protagonist actually asks one of the antagonists, isn’t this an overly complicated way to get what you want? Well, no one said this kind of thing was easy, is the response.

There’s an afterword that puts the book into a slightly different context: it’s sort of a prequel to some zombie apocalypse stories I’ve never heard of. Still not terribly Lovecraftian.

Overall, a bit of a slog, with some good moments but not much actual plot. At a time when so many writers are taking Lovecraft seriously and doing interesting things with his life and work, using his name for this series seems like marketing more than anything else.

More Bowie books January 2, 2017

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews, Music.
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Thanks to Netgalley, I read a couple of books about David Bowie as free advance e-reading copies in exchange for reviews. I think both were reprints with a bit of new material added. Some comments:

Spider from Mars: My Life with Bowie by Woody Woodmansey. This one’s due out right about now. As the title suggests, it’s a memoir by one of the Spiders From Mars.

There have been many books written about David Bowie, and this is one of them. It’s an inside story of the band who played with Bowie from The Man Who Sold The World through Aladdin Sane. Woody Woodmansey begins with his days as a youth discovering the joys of rock and roll, playing in small local bands and gradually moving up, playing with Mick Ronson and then being called to work with Ronson and Bowie.

It’s a time of many changes, in society and music, and Woodmansey presents it from the perspective of a northern small town lad who manages to stay away from most of the craziness. Either he kept an unmentioned diary or he has a phenomenal memory — there are details about clothes and instruments and things that I’d never remember, but I never lived through that kind of experience.

So you get a lot of the day to day life of being a rising rock drummer, playing in a popular band, being dropped just as things get huge, and keeping a life going as a professional musician, with occasional encounters with interesting people along the way. What you don’t get is much insight into David Bowie. Why did things change between Bowie and the Spiders? Must have been the drugs. There’s not much insight into anything, really; it’s not a deep book, or a gem of well-crafted prose, it’s a conversation with a geezer telling you stories of what happened. Enjoyable enough but unless you’re a Bowie obsessive who reads every book about him (not me — I don’t think I’ve read more than seven or eight) or someone really interested in the glam period of Bowie’s career, you may not need this. Though I suppose it could serve as a counterpoint of sorts to the recent Simon Reynolds book on glam, showing how all that looked to those who lived it.

And then there’s Bowie Album By Album by rock critic Paolo Hewitt, out for a couple of months now. Also what it says on the tin.

This is an excellent choice for the casual fan who wants something that puts Bowie’s albums into context, that has some good discography and chronology info, and that has a lot of photos, making it something you can browse or read through. Hewitt goes through Bowie’s life album by album, providing some context on the making and reception of each one, along with the occasional critique.

Bowie fans who already have several books in their collections may not learn a lot that’s new here, but even so it’s worth browsing for the photos.

Not much to add, really… highly recommended for anyone who wants a solid introduction to David Bowie’s career, from the early albums through Blackstar.