The Alternative Hero, By Tim Thornton

A tale of lost youth and indie music
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The Independent Culture

Warning: if the names Ned's Atomic Dustbin, Paris Angels and The Darling Buds mean nothing to you then this book probably isn't for you. Tim Thornton's novel is so washed through with love of the British indie music scene of the late 1980s that anyone less than a rampant fan is likely to find it tedious, if not outright incomprehensible.

By which definition, its perfect reader is its narrator. Clive Beresford spent his teenage years trekking from gig to record store to festival, editing a fanzine lauding the Grebo and shoegazing scenes that Britpop swept from the history books. Often he was in pursuit of The Thieving Magpies, a briefly massive band that broke through in a big way, but imploded when the front man, Lance Webster, had a meltdown onstage at the Aylesbury Festival, for reasons unknown.

Imagine Clive's reaction when, 20 years later, he spots Webster wandering out of his local dry-cleaners. Clive starts stalking his hero, thinking he might be able to get close enough to write the definitive story of the band. But when – irony of ironies – he finds himself embarking on a friendship with Webster, it is based on the premise that he has no idea who the man was.

Thornton explores the gentle complexities of this odd couple with wit and warmth. The has-been and the never-was bond over a series of quiet afternoon pints, one bursting with frustration at being so close to solving the great mythic puzzle at the heart of his sad, arrested life.

The problem is that this is just part of the novel. There is much reminiscence of lost youth, which will strike a chord with those who were there. They may smile at the "recommended listening". Others may not.

Thornton is too thorough in his depiction of Clive's glum, mundane adult life. The meaningless job, the repetitive, pub-bound social life, the failure to connect with the opposite sex: Thornton drills it into us that Clive is a loser, but contra Nick Berry, not every loser wins.

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