The lie-in and the unicorn

Love And Peace With Melody Paradise by Martin Millar IMP Fiction pounds 6.99

Melody Paradise, spiritual leader of The Tribe of the Last Free Moonbeam, organises a free festival, with the intention of spreading love and peace among the warring factions of her extended family of hundreds of hippies and new-age travellers. In an untypically self-conscious device, Millar himself, a long-term fictional chronicler of alternative lifestyles (Lux the Poet, Ruby and the Stone Age Diet etc), is invited to the festival to give a book reading at nearby Chelwyn village, although his main role soon becomes reading Terence and other ancient Roman comedies to ailing fig trees.

By casting himself in the lead role as a highly sceptical, sarcastic and unwilling participant, Millar lends an illusory semblance of authenticity to what would otherwise be a very unconvincing portrait of the travelling community. The bulk of the book is given to dispelling the myth that new age travellers are enlightened, fun-loving and peaceful, while reinforcing the myth that they spend all their time hunting for unicorns, astral travelling and hugging trees. With smug detachment, Millar charts the rivalries between the Clan of the Night Time Elves, the Golden World Eternal Party Tribe, the Militant Children of Lemuria, the Universal Leyline Protectors, the Mushrooms, and various other preposterously named nomadic tribes.

Inevitably, peace and love return to the festival in the final pages, and Millar's scepticism and antagonism is worn down to the level of affectionate mockery. By this time however, his incessant whingeing has already begged the question he poses to a character even more morose than himself: "If you're so anti-everything and everyone here, what did you come to the festival for?"

Melody Paradise is frequently very funny. Millar's gift for sarcasm is given full reign to devastating effect. However, it is directed at such easy targets that it all feels a little disingenuous. Apart from the occasional reference to road protesters and the Criminal Justice Act it is also strangely apolitical, and while it argues that travellers should be free to hunt for unicorns and hug whichever trees they choose, it is unlikely to appeal to members of the communities it caricatures.

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