The Last Days of Disco- David F. Ross


This book starts in comedy, drives through humour and tragedy, and all the time maturing into a serious social commentary on early 80’s recession hit Scotland. The attempt of a group of adolescents to make a bit of pocket money, even if not a living, by setting up a mobile disco business, makes for a very good major plot-line. The difficulties encountered in achieving this in the town of Kilmarnock of the early 1980’s, with a lack of money, difficult private lives and in while continuously falling foul of both local gangsters and the law, seem insurmountable.
The dialogue is written in the vernacular of Glaswegian slang, and is further complicated by being in the authentic voice of assertive youth, so that it is sometimes “punctuated” with crude expression. The descriptive writing is in standard British English, so that even those who really struggle with the dialogue aren’t in any real danger of for long losing the plot. The mix works very well. Imagine the comedy of Billy Connolly being delivered in his strongest accent, with a Scottish BBC presenter working between the humorous dialogues to explain the set. Younger readers may be more familiar with the comedian Kevin Bridges; the same applies. Even Brits from any distance south of the West Lowlands of Scotland will struggle for a wee while, but the learning process is more than worthwhile.
The voices of adolescence in 1980’s Kilmarnock really run true throughout, even though they are slowly submerged in importance by the experiences of a young army recruit during the Falklands War. As the terror of conflict takes over as the main driver of the work, the book moves from gritty realism on particular Kilmarnock streets, through the disturbing events affecting soldier Gary, to a realistic reminder of what going to war against Argentina was like from a wider British perspective. The book’s final twists unwind under the apposite weight of past family history as it results in a terminal kick.
This book is genuinely funny when it wants to be, a great “political” commentary, and a highly emotive look at troubled family life in a troubling time. Perhaps it helps me that in the early `80s I was still almost young enough to have shared many contemporary experiences and that for very brief periods in the `70s I even walked on not so distant streets. However, I really think this book has plenty to say to everyone. Once you’re attuned to the rhythm of the dialogue I think you are likely to feel yourself to be in the `last days of disco’. The slang starts crude, the story starts sexual organ to hand, but this is not just another boyishly comical paperback for rebellious youth, this is a seriously good book with serious observations about the days in which it was set.
My only real criticism is over the cover art, which makes the book look like exactly what it isn’t; that being a geek’s guide to the slow demise of vinyl records.


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