I’ve spent today reading David F. Ross’ s The Last Days of Disco by Orenda Books and it promises a nostalgic trip back to the Eighties. In truth, the novel offers much more than this. I experienced a multitude of emotions in reading this book and wasn’t remotely disappointed.
The Last Days of Disco juxtaposes the political issues of the time (unemployment, the Falklands War) with the social climate in Ayrshire in the early Eighties. Containing a mixture of political speeches and announcements alongside the events that take place amongst the members of the Cassidy family in the light of the political and social issues of the time, as well as a few flashbacks to add weight to the Cassidy’s story, the novel tracks the simultaneous coming of age of the three Cassidy children, Gary, Bobby and Hettie.
One thing I should mention, I was particularly glad that I had at least a basic knowledge of Scottish dialect (thanks to my Scottish dad and extended family) otherwise it could have been a slow read at times! However, the use of the dialect encourages a feeling of familiarity between the characters and the reader to the point that if you read the novel out loud, you would read it in its entirety with a Scottish accent otherwise it would just sound odd (apart from when Bobby has a little jaunt to Wigan, where a true Lancashire twang would likely be adopted)!
The first chapter introduces the reader to the Cassidy family with a lot of familiar Eighties features to evoke a nostalgic feel, such as woodchip wallpaper painted in magnolia (or mongolia, as mum Ethel Cassidy describes it), Tiswas and the allure of Sally James to young boys, the childish writing of “Europe, The World, The Universe…” after addresses, only having three television channels and one particular item that I remember from my own childhood, a glass dining table! This chapter in particular is very funny, as we see the carefree relationship between siblings Gary and Bobby, as they wake up the morning after a weekend of celebrating Bobby’s 18th birthday. This first chapter sets the stall out well for informing the reader of the dynamics between the various family members and is a brilliant opening to the book, lulling the reader into a false sense of security that this will mainly be a trip down memory lane.
In actuality, as much as there is much to laugh about, there are moments of great sadness where the various characters are victims of circumstance in hard times. The flashbacks give knowledge of past issues that still haunt and influence the lives of Harry and Ethel Cassidy. There is a general feel that these working class characters, including the friends and acquaintances of the Cassidy’s, have dreams but they put them aside to make the best of what they have.
Interweaved with the story of the Cassidy’s, we see the ambitions of Fat Franny Duncan in turmoil. Fat Franny, by his own admission, imagines himself as Don Corleone, but in actuality has very little control over anyone apart from his little band of minions. Choosing to use force to try to eliminate Bobby Cassidy’s newly (and a little hastily) founded “Heatwave” disco services rather to enhance the services he offers himself, he uses his henchmen to cause trouble at Bobby’s gigs. His ambition is to be in the back pocket of Mickey Martin but, akin to an episode of Scooby Doo, “those pesky kids” keep getting in the way, as Bobby impresses Mickey with his DJ skills and is chosen to become a resident DJ in his new nightclub, if it ever gets finished!
The novel contains many facades as Thatcher’s Britain takes its toll. The political debates and speeches found at the beginning of each chapter, are a constant reminder to the reader of the bigger picture during this time. Each character is trying to give the impression that they are someone they are not and ultimately, this tends to backfire on them. As usual, I won’t go into detail, as it is unfair to those many futures readers that this book undoubtedly will have but I can say that this novel will resonate with many people and may also make people wonder if society and the political world has really changed much since 1982. Something to think about with a General Election around the corner, perhaps?
I knew I would love this novel. I love anything that evokes a nostalgic feel, and even amongst the drama and the sadness, this novel certainly does that, as the reader is reminded of what Britain was like before the highly technologically enhanced society that we currently live in. Yet the novel completely exceeded expectations. I laughed out loud, I was moved to tears and I couldn’t put the book down. The Last Days of Disco is a brilliantly written reminder of times past, good and bad, and I would highly recommend it.