Wednesday's Book: Waterloo Sunset (Viking, pounds 14.99)

A very English group, the Kinks were a hybrid of music hall and Noel Coward on electric guitar. At first they sounded like a garage band. Their three-chord smash hit "You Really Got Me" showed no sign of the mordant, world-weary melancholy to come. But in 1966 Ray Davies gave us "Waterloo Sunset", one of the most beautiful pop songs ever written. It's a perfect vignette, a classic English weepy.

Ray Davies is in his early 50s now and much revered by a younger generation of popsters. He wrote a song called "House in the Country" 30 years before Blur. Davies was born in Muswell Hill and his excellent autobiography, X-Ray, offered tales of drunkenness and cruelty spiced with rock `n' roll scandal. Waterloo Sunset is a collection of familiar kitchen-sink stories, film scripts and oddball London sketches.

As always, Davies writes of social pretension and the pathos of human failure. In this collection, a no-hope pop star lives in a squat off Regent's Park; another tale describes the shabby-genteel existence of an old woman in a mansion flat. The uncharted boondocks of English suburbia are also lovingly described. One story, narrated by a murderous commuter, takes us on a train journey from Guildford to Waterloo, passing Effingham Junction, Cobham, Claygate and other desolate places.

Sadly,Waterloo Sunset does not live up to the glorious song. The prose is clumsy at times and there's an oddly outmoded, nostalgic air to the London portrayed by Davies. Nevertheless, the collection has a quirky fascination of its own. It is held together by several stories about the pop impresario Richard Tennant, and his attempts to resurrect the rock `n' roll has-been Les Mulligan. Tennant sounds like the self-opinionated Jonathan King, while Mulligan, presumably, is Ray Davies with his personal life ravaged by drugs and booze.

Memorable, too, are the wry observations about the English class system and our nostalgia for the village green that no longer exists. Davies likes to mock those who lie about their humble origins, or wear Hilditch & Key shirts and dine at Claridge's to maintain social standing. Yet rock stars might also be ridiculed for their literary pretensions. Pete Townshend's collection of short prose, Horse's Neck, got some sniffy reviews in 1985. Waterloo Sunset is strictly for Kinkophiles. One day, Ray Davies may write a book worthy of his immortal songs.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookA delicious collection of 50 meaty main courses
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

    Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

    £40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

    Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

    £35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

    Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent