Thanks to NetGalley and to Random House UK, Cornerstone, for providing me an ARC copy of this book that I freely chose to review.
I kept seeing this book pop up all over when it came to recommendations of new releases and that made me curious. I also read that Reese Witherspoon had bought the rights to adapt it into a TV series, and the comments about the book made me think about the movie This Is Spinal Tap, although the musical genre is different (yes, it’s all Rock & Roll, baby) and the story is not intended as a parody, and all that together with the evocative cover, I knew I had to check it out.
This is one of those novels where I was intrigued to read what other reviewers had said, and, curiously enough, one of those where I could see the point of both, those who really loved the book, and also those who hated it. Somehow, I could see the merit on both types of opinions, and it really depends on the kinds of books you enjoy or not. A couple of provisos, here. Many of the reviews talk about the author, and especially refer to one of her previous books, The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, which seems to be a well-loved novel, and for people who had loved that book, their expectations were very high, and some found this book too different (some fans of the writer also loved this book, so don’t let that put you off). I haven’t read any of the author’s previous novels, so I cannot help with that. After reading the reviews and this novel, I became curious about her other books, but I come to it without any previous knowledge. The second proviso is that quite a few people compare the ‘fiction’ band at the heart of the story, The Six, that is later joined by Daisy Jones, with Fleetwood Mac (with Daisy Jones then being a stand-in for Stevie Nicks), but I must confess not to know enough about the ins and outs of this band to be able to comment (I was quite young when they were at the height of their popularity, and I never read much about them, although having read a bit about them since, yes, I can see similarities, but I can also see differences). So, if you are a big fan of Fleetwood Mac, you might be more intrigued to read this novel, but you might also hate it. You’ve been warned.
So, what are the comments on both sides that I agree with? The way the story is told will not be to everybody’s taste. This is the story of the band, and of Daisy Jones, pieced together through interviews conducted many years after the band was created, and that makes it very fragmented. It does follow a chronological order, and we get to know about Daisy Jones, and about the Dunne Brothers (Billy and Graham), from before they got into singing, composing, and playing songs, and later on the rest of the members of the band, Camila (Billy’s girlfriend and later wife) and their manager also come into play. These fragments of interviews often refer to the same events, providing the reader different points of view, and sometimes completely different descriptions, but it can cause a disjointed effect, and it will suit some readers but others will hate it. Personally, I found it fun and quite dynamic, but it is true it does not immediately create a picture of what’s going on in one’s head, in the same way as more standard narratives do.
There were also a lot of comments about the characters, and how some of them were one-dimensional and it was difficult to tell them apart. As I have said before, the story starts with the origin of the band (we later learn why), and then we only get to hear from the rest of the members as they join the band or meet the other characters. For me, Pete, Eddie and Warren were not distinctive enough. Yes, Eddie always seemed to have issues with Billy and didn’t like his style of leading the band. Pete had a girlfriend in the East and he would phone her often, and Warren was the drum player, but other than that I’m not sure I got a strong impression of who they were, and when later in the book one of them wanted to leave the band, I realised that I must have been told two of them were brothers already, but because that hadn’t feature prominently anywhere (after all, the interview is about the band, their tours, and their records, and the questions asked are mostly about the time they spent together), it had not registered with me. Camila is talked about a lot, because many of Billy’s songs are about her, and although she seems to represent an old-fashioned model of femininity, the staying-at-home Mom, she gets involved at crucial points and she has a more important role than one might think when the story starts. I did feel that the female characters were the strongest, and although that did not make them immediately sympathetic and likeable, I thought they were the more complex and the ones I most enjoyed. I liked Karen (I’m not a musician, but I did feel a connection with her) the keyboard player, as well, and she is, perhaps, my favourite character. And I quite liked Daisy’s friend, Simone, also, although she is mostly portrayed as her friend, rather than being an individual in her own right, and that comes in part from her telling Daisy’s story and her role in it rather than giving us much insight into her own character. Although Daisy marries at some point, Simone is more of a steadying influence for her, like Camila is for Billy, than any of the men she meets and talks about in the book. But I agree, the way the story is told does not make for fully rounded characters, although many of the situations will feel familiar to people who have read a lot of biographies of rock & roll bands.
Some reviewers were disappointed by the ending, that perhaps feels more like a whimper than a bang, but I thought it made perfect sense, and yes, there is something I’ve seen described as a twist, that is perhaps not truly a twist, but it helps join everything together and adds a nice touch.
I am not an expert on music, and not a big follower of bands. I have not been to many concerts, although even with that, it is difficult not to have heard or read about the use of drugs, wild parties, hotel rooms trashed by bands on tour, groupies following bands from city to city, and the paraphernalia around the 1970s world of rock & roll music scene. There is plenty of that here, and also of envies, of fights, of creative differences, of the process of composing, creating, and editing an album, down to the shooting of the cover, that will delight people who really love the period and reading about it. Even I, who am not knowledgeable about it, enjoyed it, particularly learning more about the process of creation, although it might not sound authentic to people who truly know it. The writer gives the different characters (at least the main ones) distinct voices, and the lyrics of the songs, that are also included in full at the end, fit perfectly in with the band and its themes, and it made me keen on reading more of the author’s novels.
There is more than R & R to the book, or perhaps some of the themes seem inherently related to it, like drug addiction, family relations, alcoholism, abortion, fatherhood, bringing up children, the role of men and women in the family, child neglect and abuse… Although some of them are only mentioned in passing, we get a fuller picture of others (Daisy is very young when she leaves her parents and starts visiting bars, taking drugs, and engaging in behaviours that would be considered risky at a much older age, and drug and alcohol addiction and its consequences are discussed in detail), and readers must be cautious if they find those subjects upsetting.
I have talked a bit about the characters and said which my favourites are. In some ways, Billy and Graham are the most sympathetic to begin with. Their father abandon them when they are very young, and they work very hard, are talented, and support each other through thick and thin. However, when Billy becomes addicted to drugs and then gets sober and becomes the head of the band, he puts himself and his family first and is not always likeable (even if creatively he sounds interesting). Daisy, on the other hand, sounds at first like a rich-spoiled girl, but her family pays no attention to her, and she is in fact neglected. She is selfish and egotistical as well, but she has no role models or understanding. I liked her attitude, but not her in particular, at least at first, and her behaviour will be alien to most people (although typical of the image we might have in our head about what a rock star would be like). However, the way the story is told gives us the opportunity to read her later reflections and the way she now sees things and how she evaluates much of what she did at the time. And although I didn’t particularly like the Daisy of the period (she is described as a magnet to everybody who met her, but I never had the feeling I would have liked it if I had known her), I came to appreciate the older Daisy and her take on things.
What did I think of the book? I really enjoyed it. It panders to most of our standard images of what the life of a rock & roll band would have been like at that time, but it gives an insight into parts of the process that I found interesting. It also creates some credible female characters that have made their own decisions and fought their own fights, and in the world of music that is not always easy to find. The way of telling the story worked for me, although I know it won’t work for everybody. I highlighted a lot of the story, so much so that I decided to leave it to readers to check a sample and get a sense of the narrative style. Does it deserve the hype? Well, perhaps not for me, but it’s a good read and I can see why it will captivate some readers more than it did me. Oh, and for those who love audiobooks, I’ve read very good reviews of the audio version, and I understand that there is a full cast of narrators and each character is voiced by a different person, so it is worth considering.
If you are a rock & roll fan and enjoy trips down memory lane, especially to the 1970s, I’d recommend this book. And I hope to explore further novels written by the same author.