I really wanted to like this little book. I thought it would be a fun story about what it was like to grow up in 1980s England, when The Smiths were first on the music scene. About musical fandom in the days before the internet and smartphones, when you had to find a reliable music shop that sold Melody Maker or NME imports just so that you could find out the tiniest bit of information about whatever group was the coolest back then.
But this isn’t that book. This book touches on music fandom and obsession and has the rise of The Smiths and Morrissey as a subplot. But really, this is a book about mental illness. And that isn’t what I signed up for.
Young Alice lives in the British countryside with her father, Keith the pot-smoking hippy, and her mother, Gina the schizophrenic. Her mother is known around town as being crazy, and poor Alice doesn’t really stand a chance on the social scene. Alice feels quite alone — unable to bond with her mother and unwilling to be honest with her father — until one night in 1983, she sees The Smiths on Top of the Pops. And she knows she’s found her soul mate in Morrissey.
Nobody understands her despair or her loneliness like Morrissey, and Alice becomes obsessed. For many years. And so does her mother. Morrissey and his music lift Gina out of her drug-induced catatonic state and she abandons her family to head to Manchester, on a quest for Moz, truly believing that he’s sending her a message hidden in the lyrics of There is a Light that Never Goes Out.
Really, this could have been cute and fun. But it just wasn’t. With themes like date rape, miscarriages, mental illness, infidelity, and homophobia, I really just felt a sense of dread.
And the ending. I just couldn’t.
Alice and Keith find that Gina has been living with some old truck driver who helped her look for Morrissey. They want to get married. So Keith divorces Gina to get with the town doctor that he’s been carrying on with. And Alice and her maybe-gay best friend decide to settle down together (maybe she’s pregnant? Its all very vague.). So they have a triple wedding. As you do.
I’d advise you to skip this book. If you’re looking for a book that is a real tribute to The Smiths, pick up Irvine Walsh’s Trainspotting. The scene in that book about There is a Light that Never Goes Out is simply heartbreaking.
A Personal Note: Although this book took place a few years before my time, I did love the feel of it, and the memories of what it was like to hear new music that blew my mind. Yes, I loved The Smiths. And The Cure. And Bauhaus. And Adam and the Ants. And Duran Duran. Whatever was new and different. And I was — for a brief time — a little bit of a punk, a little bit of a goth back in the day.
If anyone here is from Boston, there was a store about a block away from Park Street Station called Stairway to Heaven, which was actually a basement. You could go there and buy your Doc Martens and your wayfarers, your Madonna bracelets and your jazz shoes. That’s what this book made me remember. Visiting Stairway to Heaven to see all of the lipstick kisses on the Simon LeBon posters and trying on black lipsticks.