Mockstars by Christopher Russell

Christopher and George have wanted to be rock stars since they were children and have been in a band together for just as long. Based on real events, Mockstars is Christopher’s account of their month-long journey from two-man dream, Satellite, to four-man band, The Lightyears, as they take on a European tour and try to win the Best New Act at the London Independent Music Awards.

Christopher, 23 and living with his parents, is beginning to feel the pressures of his unusual career choice and the tour and award ceremony are framed by a letter offering him a job in advertising. As they mock rock star life in a tour bus that belongs to George’s Dad on a tour that pays them barely enough to keep them in cheese, they hope to find that playing at rock stars will lead to them being rock stars. But women, rival bands, substance abuse, a harridan French landlady with a peg leg and snow chains all work their insidious way into the dream leaving the outcome of the final showdown at the battle of the bands a mystery until those last few pages are turned.

As I said in my review last week, I don’t naturally gravitate to comic novels, preferring my comedy mediated through speech, but Christopher Russell’s writing is a crisp flow of erudite witticism. It would make great stand-up and it is clear from the online clips that Christopher is a natural performer. Though the tone is always upbeat, there are little gems that mock middle England. For example, when Christoph, as George calls him, expresses some doubt over the ease of band life, saying that some might find the insecurity and rejection difficult to deal with, George replies, ‘That may be true, but those are also the kind of people who say things like “That’s a nice ottoman”…’

Ultimately, through all the crazy shenanigans, the message of the book is spoken by the band’s drummer, Tony, ‘If you’re lucky enough to have a dream, it has to be worth chasing after.’

Mockstars is a well-written, well-observed and impeccably timed mockumentary. I would be surprised if we didn’t hear much more from Christopher Russell in the future.

Next week, I’m reading History of the Rain by Niall Williams, followed (hopefully, if it gets delivered on time) by Suspended Sentences: Three Novellas by Patrick Modiano recent recipient of the Nobel Prize for Literature. It is depressing that so much of his work is unavailable in English, but that is no surprise. We are a European country that mostly reads contemporary foreign literature originally written in English. It’s embarrassing. Yes, we should all learn more languages, but we can’t learn them all. To stop the UK missing out on International contemporary literature we need to encourage more publishers to commission more translations. I am exceedingly pleased that Ali Smith continues to bring this issue to the forefront. She’ll be speaking about translation at the Southbank on 3rd December. I hope the publishing industry listens.

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