- The Mess We’re In
- Annie MacManus
- Wildfire, £18.99
The house, at one stage infested with mice, is a kip. It mirrors Orla’s messy life which sees her having sex with a few guys (not from the band). None of the guys are really interested in having a relationship with her. In between the flings, she tries to interest record labels in her demo tape entitled ‘Metamorphosis’. While she succeeds in getting work experience in two record companies, Orla worries about how she may be perceived. “Will they be laughing at the Irish girl, sending out demos and putting herself about?” This thought is a rare example of self-awareness on Orla’s part. In the misogynistic music business, the guys can do what they want while a young woman sleeping with them is seen as a joke.
Neema is a lot more streetwise than Orla. When Orla becomes obsessed with a guy called Moses who is moving from Cheltenham (where Orla lived for a while studying music technology) to London, she has a fling with him. Unable to read the signs that he’s just not that into her, Orla chases him. At one point, she calls him six times but he never answers.
Neema, who eventually becomes angry with her friend, had advised her to play it cool but Orla is unable to contain herself. She is a pity, deluded, and disappointed.
The news from Dublin is not good with Orla’s parents’ marriage having broken down. Both her mother and her sister are drinking too much. Orla is in no position to judge them as she too boozes a lot.
However, Orla is not a complete write-off. Readers will find themselves rooting for this flawed and vulnerable character because she has ambition. Not only does she want to crack it as a singer/songwriter, she also wants to produce her own music. This is met with a wall of antipathy from people in the music world with whom she is put in touch. Women don’t work as producers is the message Orla receives. But she has her dreams.
If “cool Britannia” is exemplified by Shiva, with the band members signed to a label and ingesting gargantuan amounts of cocaine, another England is hinted at in this novel.
In the pub where Orla works, run by a tough Irish woman, she is exposed to Mayo Dave and Gerry, who left the old sod to make a living in London. I would have liked their stories to have been fleshed out more. They are potentially more interesting than the callow young men that Orla associates with.
This is a well-written novel, perceptive about the music business and the fleeting connections made at the after parties of gigs. Orla’s metamorphosis is slow. But stick with her. Her trajectory is not without promise.