Review of ‘Songs in Ursa Major’ by Emma Brodie

I can’t resist a music-themed novel set in the 1960s or 70s. This one is based on the folk rock scene in America and is inspired by the relationship between Joni Mitchell and James Taylor. I liked the book, although I had some reservations about it.

The protagonist is Jane Quinn, a natural musical talent who works at a care home and a bar on Bayleen Island. She’s in a band called the Breakers. Her life changes when they play the local folk festival and then she meets rising star Jesse Reid. It’s a rocky love story, an exploration of songwriting and a criticism of how women in the music business were treated. I enjoyed the sense of place, the strong characterisation of Jane and the well-researched details. However, there were too many characters, some of them very peripheral. I struggled to remember who some of them were, when they made intermittent appearances. I felt that the writing style was too plain sometimes, with not enough variation in the sentences and in the expressions used. Moreover, my attention waned when Jane escaped from her troubles and went on holiday. I need conflict and pace to keep wanting to turn those pages.

This book definitely made an impression on me and there were some great things about the story and setting, yet the execution was flawed. I felt that Jane was the only fully developed character and that the others were a lot of cardboard cut-outs. Even Jesse didn’t feel like a real person. Maybe this is just down to my preference for first-person narration over third-person. If I were to recommend a book set in the 60s or 70s music scene, it would still be Daisy Jones & the Six.

First published in 2021.

2 thoughts on “Review of ‘Songs in Ursa Major’ by Emma Brodie”

  1. I just read another lackluster review of this one, so I think I’ll skip. Another music-themed new novel is Mary Jane. I think I’ll be picking that one up instead.

    1. I’d read only very glowing reviews of this one, it was available from the library so I gave it a go! I have seen Mary Jane there too but I’m not quite in the mood for it at the moment.

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