‘A novel to be savoured’ – The Thrill of it All by Joseph O’Connor

ttoiajocSome might read The Thrill Of It All as the memoir of a fictional band. It seems to me instead, or more so, to be a story of love, friendship and loneliness.

Robbie is a second-generation Irish teenager growing up in 80’s Luton. He has a brother and a dead sister, an absence that is present throughout the book as if a character of its own. Soon after starting his studies at The Poly, Robbie meets Fran, the future lead singer of their future band. Meeting Fran brings focus to a life that until then largely consisted of winding up Robbie’s parents whom he defiantly calls Jimmy and Alice. ‘My hobby became Fran-watching,’ he says, and later he quotes Montaigne: ‘If you press me to tell why I loved him, I can only say very little. It was because he was he, and I was I.’ As it often happens, the main events of Robbie’s life come as a giant wave when he is barely out of childhood, and after the wave has receded, the rest of his life is spent dealing with the aftermath. Fran and Robbie, plus Robbie’s crush Trez and her brother Sean, form a band, spend ages getting it off the ground, tour for free, sleep in the car to save money, play to audiences who couldn’t care less. They hit success, life seems to be about to start. And then Fran leaves. Gone to pursue his own fame.

Fran as a character is as elusive as Fran as a friend, or as a colleague. Whilst the laddish drummer Sean and the beautiful, sensible cellist Trez are easy to understand, Fran remains a mystery until the very end. But so does Robbie too. The final part of the book focuses on Robbie’s life post-Fran, and post-band, and leading to the gig that Trez organises in Dublin, years after the band stopped playing together. It is at the gig that we finally get to see Robbie from outside of his head, and what a revelation it is!

How do you explain what a fictional band sounds like? O’Connor does it exquisitely by letting us listen to the music of Robbie’s insecurities, his inability to see his own importance, and his all-consuming love for Fran. The genre, the keys, even the lyrics could be anything – what we all hear when a really great song comes on are those half-glimpsed recognitions Robbie talks about when he describes their friendship.

Any Cop?: The Thrill Of It All is a novel to be savoured, with its beautiful, laugh-out-loud bickering between Jimmy and Robbie, with its melancholic sweetness and the shy wisdom that penetrates its pages, and with the feeling it gives that, despite not hearing a sound, you have just come out of an amazing concert of all your favourite songs.

 

Maia Nikitina

 

 

 


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