If you were born between about 1970 and 1980, then sometime in the mid 90’s, you probably either wanted to fuck, or wanted to be, the author of this book. Louise Wener (ex-Sleeper) turned all her experiences into a heavily-autobiographical debut novel which shows, perhaps surprisingly, that she's a better writer than any ex-popstar should be.
'Goodnight Steve McQueen' is no stunning debut in the way that, say, 'The Wasp Factory' was. Instead it’s a solid, sturdy entry from a talent who may very well grow into greatness. Despite being cynically marketed to the same type of audience as Mike Gayle’s insipid lovefests, and cursed with a tacky, simplistic cover, Wener's first book shows that she could easily, and without much effort, become the female equivalent of Tony Parsons. And hopefully take fans of his mediocre 'talent' and show them exactly how much greater writing can be than the dreary shit than clogs up our bookstores.
It’s not all sweetness and light. It suffers from a lowly, prosaic plot and has the worst opening paragraph I’ve ever read (and one that was, quite rightly, lambasted all over the internet when it first appeared).
Thankfully it’s all an improvement from there, as characters are realistically drawn, and events unfold at a natural pace. Wener also avoids a common temptation - that of characters behaving irrationally and stupidly in order to advance the plot along. The touch of realism is oddly convincing. She's also surprisingly successful in writing from a male perspective.
Overall, the novel oddly echoes 'High Fidelity', even down to the supposedly-strong but ultimately weak-willed female lead who tries to impose her will upon the lead character before succumbing to another few years of poverty and memorising old vinyl catalogue numbers. That’s not giving the end away: there’s a lot lot more to it than that. Struggling musicians in back street pubs pooling their remaining cash for a pint, rock star ex-friends who turn out to be unsufferable aresholes, failing relationships, cheap drugs, battered transit vans, groupies, and the odd bit of domestic deception.
So business as usual for a rock memoir. It’s never as earth-shattering in its expose as 'The Dirt' nor as personal as 'High Fidelity', instead 'Goodnight Steve McQueen' straddles the middleground between genius and ambition, and promises much for it’s follow-up. A talent to watch.
6Mark Reed's Score