Debut novel, Music Love Drugs War, by WriteNow mentee, Geraldine Quigley, is a coming-of-age tale set against the backdrop of The Troubles.
The end of the school year is approaching, and siblings Paddy and Liz McLaughlin, Christy Meehan, Kevin Thompson and their friends will soon have to decide what they’re going to do with the rest of their lives. But it’s hard to focus when there’s the allure of their favourite hangout place, the dingy ‘Cave’, where they go to drink and flirt and smoke. Most days, Christy, Paddy and Kevin lie around listening to Dexys and Joy Division. Through a fog of marijuana, beer and budding romance, the future is distant and unreal.
But this is Derry in 1981, and they can’t ignore the turmoil of the outside world. A friend is killed, and Christy and Paddy, stunned out of their stupor, take matters into their own hands. Some choices are irreversible, and choosing to fight will take hold of their lives in ways they never imagined.
With humour and compassion, Geraldine Quigley reveals the sometimes slippery reasons behind the decisions we make, and the unexpected and intractable ways they shape our lives.
Sometimes, I forget how much I love coming-of-age novels, and then a book like Music Love Drugs War comes along, and I fall in love with them all over again. Crafting the growth of characters over the course of a book, and making their development believable, is not easy to achieve, but Quigley achieves it beautifully in her novel. We see how the weight of certain choices hang heavy on characters, feel their emotions, and become invested in their lives.
Some characters win you over more than others, but, overall, I loved the dynamic of this friendship group, especially the relationship between Liz and Kevin, can their romantic relationship survive all that is to come? Also the family dynamics within the McLaughlin household was one of my favourite parts of this novel – Bernie McLaughlin, though she may not have had a huge role, along with her husband, Jim, really portrayed the parental anxieties that every parent likely experienced raising their children during The Troubles, you could tell they loved their children something fierce, and that’s something, no matter the time period, parents can relate too!
The characters mentioned in the synopsis, Paddy, Liz, Christy, and Kevin take centre stage in this novel. But, you also meet Sinéad and Orla, who fade away as the plot progresses, which was a shame, as it would have been nice to have had another central female alongside Liz; especially Orla, as she faced a very real reality of war, and while her character wasn’t completely forgotten, it may have added to this novel to have seen a closer look at her development. However, you could argue that a detailed look at four characters worked (which it did), and that maybe six would have been too much, and it would have changed the impact of the entire novel.
Quigley writes tenderly in an atmospheric manner. The way she portrayed the daily lives of these young people, and their search for purpose, was so well done – you could visualise it as you read it! It reminded me a bit of ‘This is England’, not the location or political climate, but the fact that you’re privy to the drinking, the smoking, the ‘hanging out’, but also the close friendships, and the search for self.
The plot is wrapped in a layer of unease created by the scenes of rioting, solider’s patrolling the streets, the stop and searches, the heightened anxiety and tensions of a nation. I don’t know much about The Troubles but this novel gave me a glimpse into what life was like at the time, and has me eager to read more books (fiction and non) set against this backdrop; equally, I’m looking forward to reading Quigley’s next book!
*My thanks to the publisher (Fig Tree) for providing me with a copy of this book*