Daisy Jones and the Six, by Taylor Jenkins Reid. When a novelist tries to do something very different in their style of writing, they can succeed or fail dramatically. Daisy Jones is most definitely a hit. There’s nothing unique about the concept – a fictional band trying to make it big – but the whole book is written as if the band members were being interviewed. It takes a bit of time to get into it but it wasn’t long before I wasn’t thinking about that, and instead I was captured by the story. And when it comes to ‘fictional band’ books, this is one of the best. Strong characters, the mood of the seventies’ music scene, I could even see and smell where they were playing. Loved it.
High-Fidelity, by Nick Hornby. I still think this is one of Hornby’s best novels. The ambience of the record shop – vinyl, obviously – the ‘top five’ lists the main character and his colleagues create, the traumas he goes through. Back in the nineties, I could identify with it on many levels! It’s all about the music which Hornby invites us to remember, while of course, not forgetting, it’s about our relationships – what Nick Hornby writes best. It was written pre-Spotify days but I’m sure it would come with a playlist if it was written now.
The Bear Comes Home, by Rafi Zabor. Twenty-three years ago, I first read The Bear Comes Home and it’s still one of the best novels about music. An existential saxophone-playing bear, jazz, New York, a jailbreak – what’s not to love?! I can just imagine sitting in those smoky, New York joints hearing The Bear play alongside real-life jazz virtuosos. I wish I could have been there to see The Bear play, and I really Rafi Zabor had written more novels.
Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel. I know this book is in a lot of people’s ‘top x lists’, but for good reason. It’s such a great novel. Yes, it’s set in a post-pandemic world, but as the author herself has said, she doesn’t consider it science-fiction. It may be less of a music-oriented novel than the others in this post – the musical influence is because the main character, Kirsten (with her old, graphic novels called Dr Eleven) is part of a nomadic group of actors and musicians who tour the Great Lakes region, performing Shakespeare plays and classical music – but that doesn’t mean the music isn’t important. It is many of their interactions and encounters which I remember and think about.
The Commitments, by Roddy Doyle. Written in Doyle’s inimitable style of primarily dialogue, the story tells of two friends trying to form a band and recruit a manager, Jimmy Rabbitte; they subsequently lose band members and move onto being told to play ‘Dublin Soul’. It’s hard to read now without envisaging the film and hearing the soundtrack in your mind, but at the time, the book seemed groundbreaking for me. What Doyle does best is recognise that although it’s about music, it’s really about the tensions and drama between all the characters, their jealousy, their backgrounds. Hard to believe it’s thirty-five years since it was published!