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Goodnight Steve McQueen

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Flame, London, 2002
368 pages; price: £6.99
(first published by Hodder & Stoughton, 2002)

dedication: For Andy

The blurb on the back:

'This is high-class bloke lit written by a woman ... Wener has a lovely way with words' - Daily Telegraph
'A warm and funny debut' -
Danny McQueen has dreamt of being a pop star since he was 13 years old. At the age of 39, he's still dreaming. Now he faces a dilemma. His girlfriend Alison wants him to sort his life out. She's given him an ultimatum: find a record deal by the end of the year or find a new girlfriend.
When is it time to give up on your childhood ambitions? When is it time to stop watching
Columbo in your underpants and get a proper job? Is six months long enough for one last assault on the big time? Is friendship ever more important than love?
With the help of his boss Kostas, his two best friends and an eighty year old Kung Fu enthusiast called Sheila, Danny McQueen is about to find out.

opening lines:
Do you remember the quiz show
Winner Takes All? It had a top prize of one thousand pounds, They kept it in a Perspex display case. A thousand crisp green notes.

For those who didnít keep up with the Britpop revival of the mid-90s, Sleeper were almost the archetypal exponents of the genre, producing three albumsí worth of guitar-based three-minute songs, mostly character studies and vignettes of everyday life, all set to attractive melodies. They werenít bad at all, even if they lacked the spark of genuine inventiveness that made the Auteurs, Elastica and Blur stand out.

The star was the singer and songwriter, Louise Wener, who had a streak of wit and intelligence that guaranteed good copy for interviews. After the group split, she had the foresight to resist a solo career in music and instead move into writing. And hereís her first novel.

Unsurprisingly, itís about the world of rock & roll, specifically the lower reaches of the British indie scene, with a band called Dakota (in a previous incarnation as Agent Orange they almost signed to Polydor, but got passed up in favour of The Wonder Stuff) having one last shot at the big-time before giving it all up to become minicab drivers. Their tale is interleaved with the relationship between their guitarist Ė the eponymous Steve McQueen Ė and his increasingly dissatisfied girlfriend.

Itís all very endearing and, if the story isnít breaking any new ground, Wenerís ambition is evident in her decision to use a first-person male narrator; a risky business, doing a sex-change on a first novel, but she just about gets away with it. There are only occasional moments where it feels like a womanís version of blokedom, rather than the real thing. Equally tricky is the use of the present tense Ė it can get really intrusive and annoying Ė but again, she keeps it under control.

Ignore the cover quote comparing it to the smug High Fidelity, this is a cut above: much more fun, and with a genuinely warm tone. Easy to read and not very challenging. Still doesnít capture the spirit of what endeared us to rock & roll though. Bit like Sleeper, then.

Ms Wener


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