Juliette Foster, award-winning broadcaster, Brass Tacks, Dispatches, BBC World Service
Ever Rest, Roz Morris’s latest work, is a beautifully crafted book with an intricately told story that never flags. The characters are authentic while the atmosphere crackles with a strained uneasy calm, qualities skilfully used to peel back and explore the multiple layers of a haunting, compelling narrative. Ashten Geddard may have had the Messianic appeal of Jim Morrison but unlike The Doors frontman, there were limits to his talent and without Hugo’s brilliance he might never have reached the top of his game. Both of them knew it yet for Ash, who had fallen into the trap of believing his pop star persona, there were times when Hugo’s talent was like a weight around his neck. Ash needed him creatively but couldn’t bring himself to admit it, although his callous abandonment of Robert was the closest thing possible to an admission.
The Ash/Hugo relationship is the story backbone and it never ceases to fascinate. Why did Hugo stay with Ash when he could have easily found success on his own terms? Why did he tolerate his selfishness, or take the rap for his casual cruelty? Hugo was more than Ash’s musical collaborator he was also his protector, the reliable backstop who could be trusted to take control when necessary. It’s a role he never relinquishes and one to which he naturally rises as the rumours about the discovery of Ash’s body gain momentum. Hugo’s life could have fallen apart after the Everest tragedy, but it didn’t. His practical nature, moral grounding and all-round decency are his strength and his decision to live in Nepal, where he climbs mountains and donates his album royalties to charity, should be judged within that context. He strikes a balance between using the music business for his own purposes while keeping a distance from its greed, opportunism and shallowness.
Manipulation runs deep in the industry, as evidenced by the mistreatment of some of the novel’s minor characters and the shocking plot that’s hatched when a body thought to be Ash’s is discovered on Everest. Robert is the instigator in chief while Elliot is unwillingly sucked in, although he isn’t the only one being played. Elza, framed by the media as the tragic girlfriend who will never find peace while the love of her life is missing, is trapped in a schlocky narrative that puts a premium on album sales and website clicks. The lesson isn’t lost on superfan and millionaire businessman Oliver Jared, who buys his way into the Ashbird’s story by funding their comeback concert. Backing a dead rock star will reap dividends for him, the record company and Robert’s career, which is poised to ride the long-awaited cusp of success.
Ever Rest is a novel that intrigues, outrages and occasionally amuses with its wry shades of humour and subtle character observations. The narrative has a bitter sweet quality that raises it above the level of an eviscerating portrait of an exploitative industry. This is also a novel about surviving trauma, the commoditisation of grief, knowing how and when to exit the past while prioritising the things that matter. Ashten Geddard’s immortality will always be assured, hence the pun in the book’s title, while those left behind can reset their lives to embrace a future that had once seemed elusive.
Find Juliette Foster