‘How dae ye know this is whit he would’ve wanted?’ says Joseph.
Max gets up and walks through into the main house, leaving the two other men on the stage. Darkness is descending outside, but not in Bobby Cassidy’s heart.
‘The words…his story, it’s aw there, man. It wis you that showed me them!’
‘But they last sentences…the ones about killin’ somebody. That doesn’t indicate happiness.’
‘The Man Who Loved Islands…it’s right there in the title. He’s the man. It’s him! We’ve got tae dae it there!’ says Bobby.
I’ve always loved the parts of novels when you discover why they have that particular title: there’s something so satisfying about that mental click, that last piece of the jigsaw slotting into place. I experienced a similar feeling when I finished the novel itself – The Man Who Loved Islands, that is – largely because it is the last in David F. Ross’s Disco Days Trilogy, which began, fittingly enough, with The Last Days of the Disco, which I reviewed here, and continued with The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas, which I also reviewed here.
When I started the Disco Days trilogy, I struggled with the Scots dialect, to be honest (which is basically why I’ve never read Trainspotting – sorry, Irvine). I remember having a similar issue with the second novel, but for some reason, I had no problem with the dialogue in The Man Who Loved Islands (TMWLI). I don’t know if that’s because I had got used to the Scots by this final novel, was familiar with the characters’ ways of speaking or Ross’s writing had reached peak excellence by TMWLI. Perhaps it was a combination of all three. Anyway, dear reader, if you know what ‘ken’ means, you’re sorted (clue: the answer is in this sentence).
For those unfamiliar with the trilogy, or wanting to read the book independently, let me give you a bit of background. Bobby Cassidy and Hamish May have spent 25 or so years living it up in Ibiza; Bobby as a DJ, and ‘Hammy’ as his ‘PA’. However, Bobby is now bloated, out of work and basically an alcoholic, Hammy is in a wheelchair and they spend their days fighting. Meanwhile, Joey Miller, Bobby’s lifelong best buddy, is in China writing and trying to escape his albatross of an architecture practice. Bobby misses Joey, Joey misses Bobby, but both men are too stubborn to do anything about it. It takes a woman on the run, Bobby’s dead brother, Gary, and a crazy idea to reunite them.
Like the trilogy’s previous books, TMWLI flits back and forth between decades – the 80s, 90s and ’00s, in this instance – and characters. We have Bobby Cassidy, Lizzie King and Hamish ‘Hammy’ May in various parts of Spain, Joey Miller in China and then everyone reunited back in Kilmarnock at the end of the novel. What I loved so much about TMWLI was Ross’s ability to marry absurdity and tragedy: to have middle-aged men’s ridiculous antics be such great bedfellows with deep human emotion is not an easy achievement, but achieve it he does. Witness the two main male friendships in the novel, Bobby and Hammy, and Bobby and Joey. Both sets of men fight frequently, sometimes over small things, sometimes over massive things, but they remain fiercely loyal throughout the book, and indeed their lives. TMWLI is essentially a love letter to Gary, and as such, the novel culminates in an event dedicated to his memory. But don’t get out your hankies yet, folks: Max Mojo is here to do some truly embarrassing television interviews, and ol’ dark horse Hammy has a Spanish mistress with some pretty inventive sex games up her sleeve……
Many thanks to Anne Cater for organising this blog tour and Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books for the review copy.