UK Pub Date: Apr 14 2015
“It seems like everyone I talk to wants to know two things. One is whether I’m a serial killer or a mass murderer.”
Ok, so here’s a weird thing. My last post was about a debut novel by Sara Taylor. So is this one. Whilst Sara Taylor number one is American living in the UK, Sara Taylor number two is Canadian and usually plies her trade as the singer in the rock band The Birthday Massacre. Fans of the band will know her as alta-ego Chibi. Like yesterday’s Sara Taylor, this is her debut novel.
At first glance you might be hard pushed to find much common ground between the two novels, one an interconnecting family history, the other about teenage angst, unpopularity, starting a heavy metal band and murder; but both deal with a character who murders to protect/revenge acts against women, and both deal – in their own way – with sexism and rape-culture.
The protagonist in this Sara Taylor’s novel is Rachel, an ordinary loner girl, from a nice family, for whom school has become a place of misery – she’s unpopular, friendless and the target of bullies. She’s having a horrible time. The she discovers metal, and its visceral music and lyrics immediately connect with her. Around this time Rachel also makes a friend, a new girl called Josephine who has transferred in from a local Catholic school. Only, Josephine doesn’t really get the fascination with metal and it is only when, through Josephine , Sarah meets Fern that she feels she has met a kindred spirit and her own self confidence and believe starts to rise. The pair decide to start their own metal band. And in the words of that 80s classic TV show Hart to Hart ‘when they met, it was murder.
This was an enjoyable read and I pretty much rattled through it. I love music and like any book that has any insight into the business. Taylor has clearly drawn on her own experiences for parts of the book. The touring/band interactions narrative throughout the book rings true, it’s not quite Motley Crue – The Dirt, but it has an authenticity to it, as so the song lyrics. As someone with more than a passing familiarity with death metal/black metal lyrics, I have to say I loved the one’s Taylor comes up with for Rachel here. I’ve always loved the seeming dichotomy between the shouted/growled delivery and the seemingly great effort that goes into the actual lyrics in this sub genre of metal. “First I tear out your blue, blind eyes/such a sexy voice, such tortured cries/And blood will fill this hallowed hall/ Cause I’m the wickedest witch of all”
The book clearly touches on the sexism in the music industry, and in rock especially, and the long standing view that girls are there to look good and give blow jobs to men, not to be in the band. I remember reading Pat Benatar’s excellent memoir, Between a Heart and a Rock Place about how record companies tried to control her sound and her look, her album covers, everything. Have things gotten any better? Female rock bands or bands with female singers or other musicians are much more the norm today and indeed some of the biggest selling rock bands in the world are now female fronted, but a brief trawl of comment threads on social media quickly tells you that the Neanderthal attitudes are still ever present, and I know of an unnamed friend that has blown a roadie to get to a band. So this practice still goes on.
One thing I really liked about the book is that Taylor never really makes Rachel a totally likeable character. Yes, she may be unpopular at school and initially bullied, but this doesn’t stop her dropping a Josephine in a heartbeat when it becomes an inconvenience. She is also incredibly self centred and controlling. Even before she starts killing people she is not someone many people would immediately befriend. But that is the character’s strength.
If I have a criticism, it’s that the book doesn’t really live up to its opening paragraph. It promises a dark comedic wit and intelligence (think Daniel Handler, or Daniel Waters (screenwriter of Heathers)) but whilst it does a good job of keeping the story moving it never really fulfilled this promise for me. It also reads more like YA title than an adult one and that is where I’d see most of the potential readership for this novel. I can see fellow teens who themselves are unpopular at school finding much to like in much of what Rachel does.