on 26 August 2013
This is the first novel by Mark Wilson, but as I came to his work late, it's the third of his that I've read. I'm a big fan of his stuff. Head Boy was (is) graphically and unashamedly nasty, Naebody's Hero was (is) a post modern and surprisingly down to Earth superhero tale, and Bobby's Boy is, well, I'll tell you.
Tom Kinsella is a friendly, intelligent and creative step-son in a family where his widowed mother allows herself to be downtrodden by her new husband Mel, after Tom's dad, the eponymous Bobby, dies in an accident at work. Tom is always told that he resembles his dad in so many ways, both physically and characteristically. He loves to write, to create, and to absorb popular culture at an incredible rate.
Every weekend his mum and stepdad will take his baby step sister out, leaving Tom to sit on the back step until they return (Mel will not allow the boy in the house for fear of having his house and personal possessions tampered with). One day, however, they don't return, having perished in a freak traffic accident, and Tom is sent to live with his foul mouthed, but affectionate uncle Alec. From here on in Tom is allowed to grow as a person, to let his creative streak loose, and to fantastic ends for the kid. He finds himself a familiar face around the Glasgow music scene, reviewing gigs and the like, meeting what would appear to be his soul mate, Cathy, along the way. Eventually as his work becomes notorious, the wider world beckons, as he embarks upon a worldwide tour with an unknown American band, who are supporting a more illustrious Rage Against The Machine. What comes next is a rollercoaster of emotions, fights, drinking, smoking, and soul searching, as Tom attempts to figure out once and for all who he is, and why he is.
Okay, let's get one thing clear. Mark Wilson paints great literary pictures. Every scene, every location, every conversation, and every emotion is visualised and deeply felt by you as the reader. He has this knack of giving each and every one of his characters an unashamed way of saying it like it is, of feeling things we have all felt at some point or another, and you can't help but feel for them with each peak and trough they encounter upon life's path. That's what he does best, he writes great people. He writes people that you care for, root for, and ultimately feel disappointed with if they let you down.
Bobby's Boy is no different. It has an obvious comparison to Almost Famous, Cameron Crowe's (in my opinion) masterpiece of cinema. It's a tale of little boy lost in the big bad world of rock and roll, who earns his stripes and finds his balls as he evolves from naïve small town teenager to world weary, wiser than his years teenager in only a short time. His long distance relationship feels the strains of jealousy and paranoia, and send him on a downward spiral, until a familiar face comes to the rescue (which, having read Mark's books backwards, I saw coming a mile off!).
Having read all of Mark Wilson's fictional work now, I really enjoy seeing what he's doing with his work. The peripheral characters that pop in and out of each other's story to give a sweet kick up the behind when things aren't going their way. The obvious affection for people like Uncle Alec, who will undoubtedly make reappearances in his future stuff. If he doesn't I'll go nuts.
The reason that this is a 4, and not a 5 star piece of work, and I sincerely hope the author will forgive me for saying so, is the centrepiece conversations. The ones where Tom is feeling so low that he might as well just end it all. Although they are well timed and well meant, I think that by the third or fourth one, it seemed everybody that Tom knew had an emotional anecdote which just so happened to relate to exactly how he was feeling, and made him reassess his life, leading on to another discovery about his personality. Individually, I loved them, as a collection it bordered on too many.
Overall then, Bobby's Boy is yet another literary triumph from Mark Wilson as far as this reader goes. I know it's his debut novel, and saying 'another' is a contradiction in terms, but I told you earlier on that this is the third of his books that I've read. Pay attention.
From this book to the second and third Mark's writing has evolved, which can only be a very good thing if you're picking Bobby's Boy up as an introduction to his work, because to be honest, this novel is pretty damned excellent. You have some shit hot reading ahead of you.