Somewhere amidst Almost Famous, Alan Bissett’s Boyracers and Channel 4’s nineties series, Young Person’s Guide to Becoming a Rock Star, sits David Keenan’s recently published novel, This Is Memorial Device. Set in Airdrie, the Catholic west of Scotland, this debut novel by Keenan is a love letter to the small towns of Lanarkshire in the late 1970s and early eighties as they were provisionally transformed by the potential that came out of the freefall from punk rock.
Following a cast of sex-obsessed misfits, drop-outs, small town visionaries and would-be creatives and musicians through a timeless period where anything seemed possible, This Is Memorial Device is the first novel to come from critic, David Keenan. The crux of book is the story of Memorial Device, a fictitious post-punk group that could have gone all the way were it not for the stubborn bloody-minded belief that served to confirm them as underground legends. Written in a series of first-person hallucinatory observer accounts that capture the mundane craziness within that time and place, heady, This Is Memorial Device combines humour, experimentation with an era, and location that makes it somewhat niche.
The book is somewhat of a scripted documentary compiled by protagonist Ross Raymond, a wannabe journalist whose adolescence revolved around the local music scene. Looking to the members of band Memorial Device as idols, a band that was depicted as a culmination of various precursor bands, Keenan through the character, Ross, writes about sex, drugs and rock n roll in the town of Airdrie.
Experimental and literary in style, some of the chapters possess journalistic quality. Often in interview format or reminiscences, the titles of the chapters often seem like a reminder to the author of the content of each. Often rambling, and waffle, which allows you to get lost in the nostalgia, it is unfortunately no easy task to keep up with the happenings and characters in this novel.
A fragmented novel, certainly not plot driven with little in the way of direction, it is easy to get lost in this novel of little substance. We are indulged with a detailed representation of the music scene in Airdrie in the seventies and eighties but does that make up for the lack of story? Those who grew up during that time in Catholic West Scotland will be able to relate but by no means is this is an easy book to read. Dull yet captivating, This Is Memorial Device at times seems pointless and at others has nostalgic merits.
This Is Memorial Device was published on 2nd February 2017 by Faber & Faber.