The Last Days of Disco by David F. Ross

Last Days of Disco Cover

Many thanks to the wonderful Karen Sullivan at Orenda Books who gave me my copy. She has recently started up for herself and is predictably doing brilliantly; if my HTML skills are what I think they are, you should be able to visit the website by clicking here!

Here’s the publisher’s blurb:

‘Early in the decade that taste forgot, Fat Franny Duncan is on top of the world. He is the undoubted King of the Ayrshire Mobile Disco scene, controlling and ruling the competition with an iron fist. But the future is uncertain. A new partnership is coming and it’s threatening to destroy the big man’s Empire … Bobby Cassidy and Joey Miller have been best mates since primary school. Joey is an idealist; Bobby just wants to get laid and avoid following his brother Gary into the army. Their new mobile disco venture seems like the answer to everything.
The Last Days of Disco is about family, music, small-time gangsters … and the fear of being sent to the Falklands by the biggest gangster of them all. Witty, energetic and entirely authentic, it’s also heartbreakingly honest, weaving together tragedy and comedy with uncanny and unsettling elegance. A simply stunning debut.’

It is a wonderful thing to be transported elsewhere by a novelist’s skill. Whilst the setting is a consideration for any novel, many stories have the feeling that they could have been told anywhere. Not so in The Last Days of Disco. Here we find ourselves in Ayrshire and everything about this novel is decidedly Scottish – a very good thing in my opinion. This isn’t due to stereotypical references to deep-fried food, bagpipes and Rangers. Nor is it entirely due to the characters’ speaking in Scots (you pick it up easily so don’t be put off). This novel feels Scottish: Scottish idiosyncrasies galore, Scottish humour and, perhaps the most difficult to describe, Scottish sentiment. It’s the success with which David Ross communicates these that made me realise how well-written this book is.
The humour is frequent – it occasionally made me laugh out loud – and often wonderfully crude. The small-town atmosphere and its host of characters make it entirely appropriate, never gratuitous. Think about the charm Billy Connolly uses when telling a story about, for instance, a shit taken in a violin case which made his eyes water, and you’ll know what I mean. Here we learn what Gary did for his little brother’s eighteenth birthday:

‘”So whit did Gary end up gettin’ ye?” said Joey Miller.
“Eh? Ach, bugger all,” Bobby replied. “Cunt got me a magnifying glass an’ a satsuma. He told me to look through the glass. When ah did, he says, ‘Look, ah got ye a Space Hopper’.”
Joey laughed and folded his arms. “Aye, ah’ve got a family like that as well. For ma sixteenth, ma dad got me ‘Hide and Seek'”.’

Much of the humour comes from Fat Franny Duncan, a small-time gangster who fancies himself to be Don Corleone (The Godfather). When juxtaposed with an announcement from an MOD spokesman about a British Navy destroyer being torpedoed near the Falkland Islands, his worries about his entertainment ’empire’ are made to look all the more foolish. It is usually the case, however, that the various announcements interspersed throughout the novel, usually made by PM Margaret Thatcher herself, serve to highlight the folly of the conflict-turned war, when compared with the serious issues at home: three million unemployed and working-class poverty. As an epithet, ‘The Iron Lady’ is far from complimentary in this light. Bobby and Gary’s father, Harry, highlights this nicely when he vows never to read The Sun again:

‘Harry folded his newspaper calmly, but inside he was raging. This jingoistic propaganda was obscuring the deficits of one of the most extreme and immoral governments in Harry’s memory. Why couldn’t others see it?’

The first half of the novel deals with the rise of Bobby and Joey’s mobile disco, Heatwave. You don’t have to have been a mod to buy into some of the nostalgia employed here. I wasn’t even alive in the eighties, but I do remember being a teenager, and Ross’s treatment of that tricky time – affectionately patronising almost – is fantastic. The second half becomes more serious; as the Falklands War escalates, so do the tensions and worries in the Cassidy household. Will Gary be sent to war? Will his already fragile mother be able to cope? Will his father be able to break through his stoicism long enough to admit that he regrets the distance between them, and to tell his son that he is proud of him? … And a host of other concerns which are huge spoilers.

It is very unfortunate that, since there are a few twists and startling revelations, I cannot, without spoiling the novel for you, explain how or why The Last Days of Disco is quite heart-breaking, and ultimately very profound in an understated, modest sort of way. SO, you’ll just have to read it yourself so that we can talk about it. Please. Go on. It’s not long.

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