Tag Archive | Disco Days

The Man Who Loved Islands by David F. Ross (Orenda Books)

The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespa’s have been two of my favourite books of the last two years. I have been looking forward to reading the final book in the Disco Days trilogy, The Man Who Loved Islands, whilst feeling a bit sad that this is the last one. However, I knew that it would be a fitting end to what has been a brilliant series.

Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller, once best friends, now barely acquaintances, have slowly come to realise that while they have followed their passions, now middle-aged, life has left them behind and they are depressed at the thought that their best years are behind them with nothing to look forward to but loneliness and eventual death. Having both reached an impasse in their respective lives, with health problems looming over them and career satisfaction a thing of the past, they are forced to re-assess where it all went wrong and to try to make things right. They need to find a common purpose, and using contacts from their past lives, including the mad, but hilariously funny, Max Mojo, former manager of the Miraculous Vespas, Bobby and Joey embark on a challenge of a lifetime, to try and right some wrongs and to secure a future for them both.

The Man Who Loved Islands, like the first two books, is a political and social commentary using the predominantly working class characters to highlight what it is like to make your own destiny in the face of social adversity. Ross discusses crippling mental illness, overwhelming loneliness, ambition and the ties of family in good times and bad, with a remarkable honesty. What Ross does so beautifully is that he creates a narrative with the perfect balance of poignancy and hilarity that keeps the reader invested in his characters and they will laugh and cry with each emotionally charged chapter.

The soundtrack to each novel is integral to the action on the page and in The Man Who Loved Islands, this is no different. Ross threads classic songs throughout the narrative to add another layer to the story. Much like a film creates an emotional connection by its soundtrack, so too does the song choices in Ross’s novels. Of course, Bobby is a DJ, and Max Mojo is a band manager, so music is an important aspect of the plot anyway, but the choice of songs is key, provoking a memory in the reader or placing the action at a particular time or location, and as much as the reader is mentally reading the novel in a Scottish accent (that might just be me), they are also mentally listening to the soundtrack as they read, which undoubtedly enhances the reading experience.

Ross also takes advantage of the locations in which his novels are set. Most notably in The Man Who Loved Islands, is the use of the Ailsa Craig as the location of Bobby and Joey’s challenge. Ailsa Craig reflects a monument that stands the test of time despite being battered by the elements and the wildlife, perhaps in the same way that the friendships within the trilogy survive despite taking a severe beating over the years. Bobby and Joey have had a turbulent relationship since they parted ways in their late teens but they remain fiercely loyal to each other, often despite themselves. Even Max Mojo, who looks after himself first, also seems to look after those who have helped him over the years, even if it is not always intentional.

The Man Who Loved Islands is a story about what happens when you have fought for your dreams against all odds, but have squandered friendships along the way, finding yourself lonely, regretful and unhappy. All the characters are perched on a knife-edge and their fortunes could go either way with every decision that they make, but ultimately, they have reached middle age and something is missing. Ross has finished off this trilogy in tremendous fashion. As we have come to expect from Ross, the plot lines have been intricately woven, and have been tied up beautifully in this last novel in the trilogy. Among the humour and the sadness, Ross injects hope into his novels and even when there seems to be no way back, the spirit of the characters in adversity as they rally each other in their own inimitable way, encourages the reader to see that everyone has the opportunity to change their trajectory.

Looking at the trilogy as a whole, this is a fantastic politically, socially and musically influenced set of novels about growing up and out of Ayrshire in the 80’s and revisiting the characters in the present day to see how they did. I love a book that can make me laugh out loud in one chapter and make me an emotional wreck in the next and every single book in this trilogy has had this effect on me. I have enjoyed every single page of these novels, from the nostalgia filled first book to the reality check third novel and I’m sorry that it is all over. I’m very much looking forward to reading future David F Ross novels, but I will be undoubtedly be revisiting this trilogy in the future as these novels have become firm favourites.

Man Who Loves Islands

The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas by David F.Ross

Way back in April 2015, my Book of the Month was the hilariously, yet poignantly brilliant The Last Days of Disco by David F.Ross. Since then, I’ve eagerly awaited Ross’s follow up novel, The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas. When it arrived in the post with a vinyl record of the Miraculous Vespas one-hit wonder and containing an interview with Max Mojo (voiced by Colin McCredie), band manager and one of the main protagonists of the book, I was beside myself with excitement. (I’m actively searching for someone who would be willing to offer their record player so I can actually listen to this wonderful blast from the past!)

The Rise of the Miraculous Vespas picks up where The Last Days of Disco leaves off, although a lot of the main characters from the first book are only bit parts in this next instalment, as the focus shifts to the criminal Kilmarnock underworld, with it’s rich, often-eccentric characters and tells the tale of how Max Mojo and his big ambitions for the Miraculous Vespas come to be part of a larger plan to protect the fragile Kilmarnock criminal status quo against the threat of the McLarty gang, who have previously been ousted from Kilmarnock but are planning a big comeback.

Like it’s predecessor, this book is incredibly funny and had me giggling to myself at regular intervals. Ross has a real flare for comedy and I knew this would be a really enjoyable read, purely based on his hilarious one-liners and amusing build up of farcical situations. There are two many brilliant one-liners to mention but a particular favourite of mine was:  “He now resembled a fine bottle of red, where before he had been a shook-up bottle of Vimto.”

Yet Ross hasn’t just written a book to make his readers laugh. As with The Last Days of Disco, there are a number of poignant moments throughout the book that seem to creep up on the reader when they least expect it. The narrative is so well balanced in terms of generating an array of emotions in the reader that even when Ross evokes an image of sadness, the reader knows that there will be a moment of hilarity just around the next page.

However, it is the characters that make this novel so brilliant. Max Mojo is a young man with a dream and serious mental health issues following a head trauma. He has moments of complete lucidity and other moments where he is battling with his inner voice telling him to lose control in any given situation. The other Miraculous Vespas band members are also intriguing for a variety of reasons; a complete bunch of misfits equally as individual as each other. In comparison to the Old Firm of criminals such as Washer Wishart (Max Mojo’s dad) and Fat Franny Duncan, it seems that confidence and individuality breeds success, which gives the reader a sense of hope that despite Max Mojo’s and his Vespas issues, they could just succeed. Ross’s characters complement each other so well and the picture he creates of 1980’s Kilmarnock life containing the nostalgic reminders of the news of the day, with musical markers along the way, makes for a really interesting and enjoyable read.

Like The Last Days of Disco, Ross takes the reader on a journey, but with the added perspective of a nostalgic Max Mojo, as he gives an interview alongside the narrative, giving his own perspective in his own, vulgar way. The interview sections are indicated by an italic font, making clear where the interview starts and stops. The interview, in full dialect, is a really funny vehicle to show that over the years, Max Mojo hasn’t really changed much. I am massive advocate for dialect in novels, particularly those that are trying to capture the essence of a locality, as the Disco Days novels do, and whilst it can take a little longer to read while the reader deciphers the meaning, it is generally not all that difficult to get the gist. Quite frankly, it adds an extra facet to the characters that gives the novel that extra spark of brilliance. Max Mojo’s interview links the chapters together nicely, giving a retrospective view of the events that make this story.

The overlap between The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is to such a degree that you would not necessarily have to read one to understand the other. There are the odd character overlaps and general story-line links but The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is a fine story in its own right. Ross gives us an update at the beginning of the novel to describe how one book links to the other, which is a great tactic for making sure the reader is up to speed.

The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas is a perfectly constructed sequel to The Last Days of Disco. The reader is not left with a big cliffhanger to wonder about, yet there is enough scope for further tales to be told. As there is apparently one more Disco Days book to come, there is more to look forward to, which I’m very glad about. Ross’s skill for balancing comedy with action and poignant moments is fantastic and I can’t imagine that he could write anything that I wouldn’t enjoy. There’s enough action to keep the story moving and with the multi-faceted characters and nostalgic reminders of times past, this is a truly brilliant narrative. I’ve genuinely been looking forward to this book for a long time and it didn’t disappoint one iota. I felt I had one more advantage in being able to picture Max Mojo in my mind. My four-year-old daughter is one of the biggest Woolly and Tig fans and has Woolly and Tig on constant replay on BBC iPlayer, so Colin McCredie, who is Tig’s dad (and the voice of Max Mojo on the record that I received with the book), is an image that I can recall with considerable ease. To imagine Tig’s dad in the interview, all belligerent and cocky as Max Mojo, is an image to behold! I can highly recommend watching an episode of Woolly and Tig before reading, so you too can have this added extra image in your head when you read this amazing book! If you don’t fancy watching five minutes of toddler’s drama, it certainly won’t lessen your experience of this wonderfully funny novel. Ross has done a mighty fine job of following up the brilliant The Last Days of Disco and I’m very much looking forward to reading the third and final Disco Days novel. I would recommend this book as strongly as I recommended reading The Last Days of Disco.

 

If you’d like an opportunity to win a copy of The Last Days of Disco and The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, as well as read a fantastic short story, Waterloo Sunset, written by David F. Ross, drop by my Facebook Blogaversary Party on Friday 4th March. Segnalibro Blogaversary Facebook Event