The title of this novel piqued my interest immediately and I was in awe of an author who thought up such a great title, and then I found out that it is the name of a song by a band called The Nails. I have not heard of them, although if you Google them, it appears they are wildly popular and well-known. Well, it would not surprise my sons that I did not know them.
This novel is by an Australian author, Steven Lang, who has written a previous book, The Accidental Terrorist (which I haven’t read). The book reminded me a bit of Nick Hornby’s novels in that it is about an emotionally stunted man who tries to navigate through the complexities of life and women without much success. It is very readable, although I didn’t find it as compelling as some reviews have made out or even, as one reader put it, the best book she read last year.
It is of no surprise really, having found out that the title of the book is from the lyrics of a song, that the main character, Lawrence, used to be the keyboard player in a successful rock band. The band has fallen apart, Lawrence has left Australia and now lives in solitude in Scotland, escaping his past. His wife had died in a freak boating accident and, at the same time, he discovered that his best friend, Roly, had been sleeping with her. No wonder he fled to Scotland.
Lawrence (Larry, as he is called) had met Roly at his archetypical British boarding school, and was immediately drawn to the exotic Australian who showed no concern for the limiting school rules. Together they formed a rock band and co-write songs that became major hits. At the pinnacle of the band’s success, the band members could do anything they wanted – drink, take drugs and have sex with anyone.
Larry met Gizelle, a model, at a party and fell for her immediately. I found her to be an irritatingly unstable, insecure character who stuffed Larry around, but I suppose that is a true reflection of life in a way. She had an even more insecure drug addict and dealer of a brother who irritated me even further. Eventually Larry and Gizelle married and then the tragic boating accident happened, ironically on Roly’s boat. Larry lives with the guilt that the accident was his fault (which it is in a way), but he blocks it out of his mind and never talks about it.
Alone in Scotland, Larry has ample time to reflect on his past and examine where things went wrong. His sister, Celia, lives in Scotland as well and slowly he re-establishes a relationship with her and his parents. He also starts a relationship with a neighbour, Sam – an independent single mother who is wary of being hurt. When she finds out that Larry has hidden the secrets of his past from her, and how his wife died, she withdraws. At the same time, Roly contacts him out the blue. So not only does Larry have to find it within himself to apologise to Sam and regain her trust, he has to decide whether he is prepared to forgive Roly and to start their friendship again.
Although the plot did not totally grip me, I found Steven Lang’s writing to be tight and satisfying and his descriptions of the Scottish wilderness beautiful. It almost read like a first novel to me, but seeing that his first novel won two Australian awards, perhaps I am being unduly critical.
I think this is a good book for a holiday read; not too intellectually demanding, not too complicated but an interesting read about a man having to dig deep into his emotional being and confront his weaknesses.