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So this is the third of my planned re-reads for the summer. I’ve enjoyed revisiting these books so much that this is likely to trickle on into the autumn in an unstructured way as befits what I said in this post.
Espedair Street is a great novel about a rock band. I have to put my hand up to say that I would love to have called this one of the great rock novels but to be honest I haven’t read many (actually, I can’t think of another one) so the statement would have been based on no evidence whatsoever. It’s still brilliant, but.
So, the background to this re-read is a random thought that popped into my head on the train into work one morning that Silvery Dude, who shares some of my musical taste, might actually enjoy reading about the rise and fall and possible rise again of Daniel Weir and Frozen Gold because (a) it’s rock’n’roll and (b) more importantly, it’s Scottish rock’n’roll.
So I bought him a copy. I happen to know (because I check regularly in a not-nagging-honestly big sister kind of way, just out of interest, have you got round to it yet?) that he still hasn’t read it (I’m sure he’s saving it for a rainy day or something). Anyway having forced this on him I thought that it would be nice to read along; however, as explained a sentence ago, that very quickly turned into reading it by myself, not necessarily a bad thing.
The surprise for me was that when I went to check my stats (for yes, I keep stats on what I read, have done since June 1980, thirty years and quite a lot of books ago) I had only read this once, back in July 1992. I’m sure this is a mistake because chunks of the book have stuck in my head, but perhaps that just goes to show how powerful a story I found it to be, and besides, the stats never lie.
So, why is this so brilliant?
- a large chunk of it is set in my home town of Paisley, so the setting is entirely recognisable (and in fact when I was a toddler we used to live near the actual Espedair Street, plus my Mum grew up in Ferguslie Park) and when I was a student we would occasionally go to the student’s union at Paisley Tech where Daniel meets his future band mates
- it’s seems to be about the kind of prog rock band that I actually followed (and if I’m honest still do – hello Rush, Genesis, Pink Floyd et al); there are concept albums and drum solos for goodness sake
- I can quite happily visualise Fish from Marillion (another favourite band) as the lead character (although not now that he doesn’t have the hair)
- it has the full panoply of rock and roll excess – the drink, the drugs, the fast cars, the paranoia, the more-money-than-you-know-what-to-do-with – but at it’s heart is just about a bloke trying to come to terms with himself and his past
- Frozen Gold is a great name for a band
I thoroughly enjoyed revisiting this, intend not to leave it for another 18 years before I pick it up again.
And at least now when Silvery Dude finally gets round to reading it I can talk to him about with greater clarity than I would have done otherwise.
So. How to describe this book? Well, in his introduction to this collection of William Roughead’s writings on true crime, Luc Sante suggests that the author might just be the Henry James of the genre, which is a fascinating thought, and given Roughead’s prose style (which I loved, by the way) I can see why he came to that conclusion.
Roughead was a Scot, born in 1870, who trained as a lawyer but found his calling in writing about famous crimes, mostly but not entirely Scottish, and mostly, but not entirely murders. He is notable for the fact that he attended every significant murder trial held in Edinburgh between 1889 and 1949, a remarkable feat. And he turned most of them into articles or books written in his own inimitable style which would, as has been said by others, make you think that he came from a much earlier age. I found myself reading out whole paragraphs to the Book God because they were too much fun not to be shared.
This is hugely enjoyable if you are at all interested in true crime. Roughead covers some of the very obvious ones like Deacon Brodie, Burke & Hare and Madeleine Smith, but also others that I wasn’t familiar with at all, such as the Arran and Ardlamont cases.
The one that particularly caught my interest was his revisiting of the infamous Oscar Slater case which was taken up by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle as one of the greatest miscarriages of justice of the early twentieth century. It made me angry to read how Slater was imprisoned for many years for a crime he didn’t commit, the ineptitude of the legal system that couldn’t or wouldn’t recognise that the police had got it wrong, even to the extent of persecuting one of their own officers. Slater was never pardoned and no-one else was prosecuted for the crime, and the case has had an impact in modern times, expecially around the conduct of identity parades.
But setting aside crossness at the lack of justice meted out in some of these cases, there is a huge amount of pleasure to be gained in Roughead’s prose style. It’s a chunky read but rewarding.
So we’re now almost at the middle of September and it seems like a good time to take stock of my reading year and think about what’s coming up over the next few months, partly triggered by my starting to think of the books to take on holiday with me when I head off for 3 weeks at the beginning of October.
And of course the fact that I haven’t blogged for a while shows that my mind has been elsewhere – a mixture of work and domestic stuff which has kind of got in the way of my best laid plans.
So I am behind with my reviews – only two books behind to be fair, but that shows that I haven’t really been doing that much reading ; the whole standing on the train thing and working at home more than I have over recent months interfering with my reading routine which revolves around my daily commute. But they will be finished and posted over the next couple of days.
I had fully intended to take part in the read-a-long of The Handmaid’s Tale which Trish has been hosting here, but halfway through and I haven’t read a word despite my best intentions, so stepping back gracefully from that one. In fact I’ve decided to drop all of my remaining challenges as well, so the sidebar should be looking pretty clear shortly. Not seeing this as failure but an acknowledgment that my current workload and lifestyle just isn’t suited to directed reading. I may even make 2011 a challenge-free year but we’ll see how things go between now and the end of December; that may be a step too far!
Which brings me to one of my favourite challenges: RIP V, hosted by Carl. Again, we’re two weeks into this and I haven’t even started to make up a reading list for it; so not going to formally sign up but may find myself reading books that fit, and if I do I will blog appropriately. I am naturally drawn to creepy stuff at this time of year so it’s more than likely that I will end up taking part, but we’ll see.
This reads like a slightly downbeat post which it isn’t meant to be at all. I’m enjoying very much the book I’m currently reading (Candia McWilliam’s What to Look for in Winter) though goodness only knows how I’m going to write about something so gloriously complex and moving (but I’m definitely up for having a go).
So, no plans but just picking up whatever takes my fancy, which should be fun.