5 stars Garry Craig Powell, author, Stoning The Devil
Ever Rest is a highly unusual novel, and a highly captivating one, for a number of reasons. First, in a literary world determined, apparently, to pitch novels to readers with the emotional intelligence of teens, this is a novel for adults. It asks questions of real import, such as what makes life worth living, in a contemporary, secular society? Is it fame, glamour, and riches – which the Ashbirds band have in abundance (at least the two main members) – or is it the thrill of danger and physical challenge, as exemplified by mountain climbing, which both Ashten and Hugo take up, and a third member later flirts with? Or might it be something as simple and old-fashioned as love?
Second, among all the trendy novels with their victim narratives, this one doesn’t demand either your pity or your guilt. It’s about successful people, and what complex, fascinating characters they are. Roz Morris eschews the well-trodden path of the traditional rock ‘n’ roll novel (like The Commitments), the saga of sex, drugs, egos and quarrels, and instead focuses on how creativity actually happens, both in the recording studio, and to some extent in art. She explores the relationship between the founder members of the Ashbirds, Ashten and Hugo, which is less like Lennon-McCartney or Jagger-Richards than like Daltrey and Townsend – that is, a charismatic singer, and an eminence grise musician who does all the real creation. Because Ashten is a narcissist and to an extent a fake, we sympathise with Hugo, at least until we see how autocratically he treats the ambitious musicians who make up the rest of the band, at least in their own view.
Third, although most people prefer not to think about death, it’s ever present in this novel, informing the life particularly of Elza, the ex-girlfriend of Ashten, who suffers bereavement right at the start of the action (and so, I hope, this is not a terrible spoiler.) Although she was only with him for six months, she was so young (nineteen) that the relationship marked her, and left her with illusions about Ashten that it takes her most of the novel to demystify. A reserved, deliberately down-to-earth Australian dancer turned commercial artist, if there is any protagonist in this complex ensemble cast, it’s her.
I hope I’ve given a hint of the complexity of the characters, but it’s also the case that the plot is highly compelling. While not exactly a thriller, since we know from the start that Ashten had a fall on Everest many years ago, Roz Morris makes great use of suspense, not only to keep us on tenterhooks about whether the body will be recovered, and if so what its effect will be on the band’s comeback, but also, more importantly, on the fate of the characters. Will Hugo, who has given up music to climb and work for Nepalese charities, return to music? Will Robert, the session player who was attempting to write songs with Ashten just before his death, manage to finally break into the big time of the music world? Will Elza remain with her newfound love, Elliot, a wonderful but unadventurous guy, or will her head be turned again by the glamour of the rock world, and the discovery that her youthful love was perhaps misplaced?
It’s also fair to say that I seldom read such a masterfully-crafted novel as this one. It’s taut and tight and Roz Morris makes ever word count. She’s very deft at capturing a moment with a sensory image–often one that’s very memorably, and lyrically described. The pace is swift but not rushed. The research she must have done is very impressive. I’ve trekked twice (but not climbed) in the Himalayas, and I found the details of life in the mountains completely convincing. I’ve also been a semi-professional musician and didn’t ever doubt her descriptions of the band recording or performing (and usually I do!) This is an author you trust. And even if you are not particularly interested in either mountain climbing or rock music, you are likely to be enthralled by the characters as Roz Morris takes you on an unforgettable journey with them.
I feel honour-bound to mention that although I have never met Roz Morris, I have interviewed her before, for her brilliant travel memoir, Not Quite Lost, and plan to interview her again, indeed very soon, for this novel. However, I’ve tried to be completely frank. I’ve just finished reading the book for the second time, and honestly enjoyed it even more the second time than the first. This is surely one of the best novels to appear in Britain this year.