Now that the official figure for unemployment has exceeded three million, is the Prime Minister proud of the fact that she has brought so much despair to so many families in the United Kingdom? Is she proud of the fact that she and the Government have created more havoc in the British economy than the German High Command in the whole of the last war?
Two things beat at the heart of The Last Days of Disco: the modest industrial town of Kilmarnock, and a searing social commentary on the political maelstrom that was Thatcher’s Britain.
The novel opens with the above quote from MP Dennis Skinner, packing an unexpected punch. Its blurb, after all, hints at a gentle mockery of ‘the decade that taste forgot’ – a comedic, small-town tale of two lads and their enterprising mobile disco business. Humour certainly has its place in the novel, but, much like that brutal thing we call reality, it is but a foil to more urgent – and more tragic – matters.
Set against a backdrop of rising unemployment levels and the brewing Falklands War, The Last Days of Disco – with its anger, wit and rebellion – is the novel version of an impassioned punk song. Indeed, if time and place constitute ‘characters’ in themselves, so too does music. It is music that has brought together the novel’s two central protagonists – the charismatic Joey and bumbling but likeable Bobby – as they attempt to eke out a living soundtracking such illustrious events as a Masonic retirement bash and a birthday party in the local Conservative Club. Clever anecdotal uses of ‘Up the Junction’ (Squeeze) and ‘Ghost Town’ (The Specials) lend the novel a strong sense of time and place, but it is its politics that breathes real authenticity into its pages.
Each chapter is chronicled by Thatcher’s parliamentary comments on the encroaching Falklands affair, whilst a moving epistolary section between Bobby’s soldier brother Gary and his family demonstrates the inherent tragedy of small people caught up in large, life-altering events that lie far outwith their own control. The novel peaks, oddly, when it is at its lowest – when Thatcher’s grasp is complete and the cast of relatable characters are at her mercy.
The pathos of these episodes is so deftly handled that when a more comedic element arises, it feels almost like an encroachment – the closest to criticism you’ll find me (the case of the magically forgotten tattoo aside) – because it is only an ‘almost’. The humour is generally well-pitched and executed, in places even sublime – but David F. Ross has a talent for social angst, and it’s this I’d love to see more of in the future.
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