I came to this novel with little idea about what to expect, and I’m really glad of the fact I did, because this is a novel that delights in the unexpected, in subverting genre and generally breaking the rules and having a lot of fun while you do it.
At the outset, we are introduced to our self-destructive rising pop queen, Genie. She’s living a life of luxury that seems to revolve around cocaine, alcohol and record company executives. Very early into the narrative, our author starts weaving Genie’s current self-destructive, creatively destitute situation with the stories from her past, days when she was the big thing, days when she was nothing, and the series of incredible events that lead her to where she is. It feels like reading a fictional biopic of the music industry – and the immediate impression one gets is that the music industry involves an awful lot of alcohol and an awful lot of drugs. I was strongly reminded of Iain Banks’ Espedair Street., and that’s no bad thing.
There is an awful, glorious fascination with the life these kinds of celebrities and the industry that cashes in on them and, at this point, I was fully prepared for a novel of that sort – a journey of introspection and self-discovery from one who has sold their soul to a record label and needs to break free.
And then Genie descends into hell.
What I enjoy so much about the way Limb narrates this is the very gradual subversion of the initially realist narrative by this more fantastical tale. And then when, much later, Genie’s Orpheus journey becomes the primary narrative, we don’t quite leave the past behind. And all the while, we don’t quite know what is going on.
I remember, years ago, I had an idea for a novel that focused on the after life: a kind of post-death coming of age novel seeped in archetypes and pseudo-psychological analysis, and I gave up on it because I realised it was going to be interminable, self-indulgent dross. This is not like that – this is the type of novel I wish I’d thought of. For a start it is fun: yes, it weaves some of those same themes into the underworld narrative, but this is more Neverwhere, more Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Whilst the “mundane” life had a kind of rock star realism to it, the underworld proves to be nicely absurd, whilst always remaining tangible, and eminently readable.
I cared about the characters, I celebrated at Genie’s triumphs and feared for her in more than few places where her fate seemed against her. And the overall narrative is very satisfactory. The conclusion, once reached, is perfectly pitched and avoids the temptation to indulge in certain cliches that we often get in books of this type that start to take themselves too seriously.