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

Posted by sjroby in Book reviews.

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.



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