Review of ‘This is Memorial Device’ by David Keenan

A strange novel which is a bit like Irvine Welsh without so much dialect. I’m not sure that I actually enjoyed it but I certainly found it evocative of a time and place.

The subtitle of the book is An Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk Scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978 – 1986. Set mostly in Airdrie, Scotland, the book is a collection of interviews or reminiscences from characters involved with the underground scene who are all linked to an obscure band, Memorial Device. I was very impressed by the blending of the real-life with the fictional. It’s no surprise at all to learn that the author grew up in Airdrie in the years covered by this ‘oral history’. There are a lot of bands and musicians mentioned but I’d not heard of many of them, so I don’t know which ones are fictional and it doesn’t really matter.

Sometimes the content was funny, sometimes it was gross, sometimes it was sad and sometimes it didn’t make much sense. There is a lot of nostalgia as the surviving participants from the scene are looking back on 40-odd years ago. The nature of art is probably the main theme as the characters are always pushing boundaries and literally anything they do can be presented as art. The praise page inside the novel has a quote from Cosey Fanni Tutti, who is surely the inspiration for one or two characters.

There’s no story in the conventional sense, which makes it an unsatisfying read and kind of pretentious. It’s basically a look at the crazy characters in and around a short-lived band named Memorial Device and what happened to them. I suppose it’s a grubby celebration of Airdrie, too. The main issue I had with the book was that I kept forgetting who was ‘speaking’ as I read each chapter, as mostly it’s a different person each time.

In summary, a clever book about a fictionalised post-punk scene in a Scottish town, which I would recommend if you’re looking for something unusual and edgy to read and don’t mind if there is a lack of plot. Also pick it up if you like funny indexes.

First published in 2017 by Faber.

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