Books: A week in books
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 08 August 1998
Fiction's failure to register the impact of popular music on the post- Elvis generations must rank as one of the strangest dog-that-didn't-bark stories in postwar writing. After all, the critics and theorists sank their intellectual teeth into the sounds and stars of our century as soon as it began. T S Eliot's best-loved essay pinpoints the louche appeal of Marie Lloyd; Philip Larkin bracketed Charlie Parker with Pound and Picasso as one of Modernism's demon kings; and so it goes, up to the latest rapt exegesis of dance culture, reviewed on this page.
Turn to the novel over the past 40 years, and the cupboard looks almost bare (although Irvine Welsh and his epigones have been working fast to fill the shelves for the later 1990s). It may be that the creative imaginations best equipped to capture this musical golden age in fiction - from Ray Davies to Jarvis Cocker - have been busy writing songs instead. Or else, like the man said, if you can remember the Sixties, you weren't really there. At any rate, Salman Rushdie's avidly-awaited rock epic, The Ground Beneath Her Feet, will land in a surprisingly empty space next year.
All the more reason, then, to give a whooping, whistling, beer can-hurling roar of welcome to Pagan Kennedy's The Exes (Simon & Schuster, pounds 10). Small but very neatly formed, the second novel from Boston's priestess of PopCult follows an indie band composed of former partners who try to use their cooled-off liaisons as 'a rehearsal for some deeper connection'.
Admittedly, Kennedy's CV sounds a touch too cute for comfort: the 1970s trivia anthology; the cult cable TV show; even the fanzine devoted, Tracey Emin-style, to Herself. Well, perhaps the girl can't help it, but she can write with grace and zest (Spinsters justly reached the Orange Prize shortlist), she knows her subject inside out, and she succeeds in turning the music into what Eliot might have called an 'objective correlative' for shifting states of mind and heart.
The action unfolds among the bright slackers who loom so large in pre- millennial US fiction. Its viewpoint passes cleverly from one member to another, like a relay-race baton, as the Exes rise from garage-band obscurity to the threshold of fame. Throughout, performance acts as a counterpoint to character, from the vocalist who feels, in her private Wonderland, that the chord of G minor 'bullied her around like the Red Queen', to the solitary drummer, a drop-out Harvard scientist, who hears at last how 'his drums sound raw and naked without the other instruments'. Free of gush and grandiosity alike, Kennedy makes the music matter while sensing that the 'inherently juvenile' nature of this close-knit collective life will bring it to a stop. And she does all this without a fatal overdose or trashed hotel suite in sight. There has to be more to the rock-driven plot than This Is Spinal Tap.
New UK station Russia Today gives a very bizarre view of Britain
By performing as African Americans or Indians, white people get to play act a kind of 'imaginary liberation', writes Michael Mark Cohen
New essay by JK Rowling went live on Pottermore site this morning
Top Gear presenter is no stranger to foot-in-mouth controversy
Life & Style blogs
How to carve a pumpkin for Halloween with this step-by-step tutorial
Five year old British boy becomes youngest ever qualified computer specialist
Health: When masturbation can be fatal: The practice of auto-erotic asphyxia is often concealed by a coroner's verdict. Monique Roffey looks at a lethal taboo
Woman successfully sues Google for showing her with 'part of her breast exposed' on Street View
Happy Halloween! Google celebrates All Hallows' Eve with Doodle
Pope Francis declares evolution and Big Bang theory are real and God is not 'a magician with a magic wand'
Huge surge in Ukip support after EU funding row, according to new poll
Ukip ‘exploiting grooming scandal’ to secure party’s first police chief
Nigel Farage: 'There’s nothing wrong with white people blacking up'
Maureen Lipman says 'she can't vote Labour while Ed Miliband is leader'
Muslims, immigration and teenage pregnancy: British people are ignorant about almost everything
- 1 'Nasa Confirms Six Days of Darkness in December': No, they don't - it's a hoax
- 2 Canadian actor punched in face after 'Islamophobia' experiment goes wrong in wake of Ottawa shooting
- 3 Topshop at centre of row over body image as 'shocking' skinny mannequin photo goes viral
- 4 Top Gear presenter Jeremy Clarkson criticised for beer tweet
- 5 The bubble bursts for Sodastream
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