Alison Layland, author, Someone Else’s Conflict, Riverflow – 5 stars
Having really enjoyed Roz Morris’s other two novels, I was looking forward to her latest and it more than lives up to my expectations.
I was totally absorbed by this dynamic cast of intriguing characters against a background of the rock scene and extreme mountaineering.
On one level, this is a gripping and fascinating story about the legacy of adored 1990s rock band, Ashbirds, which came to an end after only three albums when enigmatic singer Ashten Geddard was killed on an expedition to Everest. In the blaze of fame and glory it was largely overlooked that even at the time the cracks were already showing between central band members Ashten and Hugo Bird, as well as other more peripheral musicians, mainly Robert Speed, considered a glorified session musician by others but who, embittered after decades of work making music for adverts and the like, considers his own contribution to the band to be far more significant.
The novel also focuses on Elza, Ashten’s girlfriend at the time of his death, revered by adoring fans as the grieving widow, but in fact trying to reclaim her own life and status as an artist.
A number of alleged findings of Ashten’s body have come to light over the years, which make it hard to lay the past to rest and thus have a devastating effect on those left behind. One such coincides with an attempt by a wealthy investor to revive the band’s success with a comeback album featuring, among others, former member Hugo who has since become a reclusive mountaineer, and Robert, initially nervous but fuelled by the opportunity of reversing his fortunes with a real career in music.
Beneath the surface this is a fascinating exploration both of ambition and the effects of fame on people, and of loss and the nature of memory and how it can idealise someone who is no longer here. Roz Morris seamlessly interweaves the various characters’ backstory with the present-day action, each enriching the other.
I often think that one of the joys of fiction is that it can so often make you empathise and come to care for people you’d probably run a mile from in real life. This is certainly the case here. With the possible exception of Elza, most of the characters are, at best, difficult, yet truly fascinating and I really wanted to know more about them and cared deeply about what happened.
It can be difficult to convey music in a work of fiction convincingly, yet Morris uses the band’s songs to excellent effect, enriching rather than intruding on the narrative. On the foundations of an early discussion between Hugo and Ashten of their early influences (in a chapter that is also wonderfully revealing about their characters), built up with an interlacing of more or less successful lines from songs old and new throughout the story, you get a real feel for the band’s sound – so that when you come to the discography as an appendix to the novel you’re almost tempted to google the albums!
This was one of those novels I found hard to put down, and the characters are still with me days after finishing it.