Robinson’s portrayal of the artist’s struggle in a world that all to often measures value by financial success will resonate with anyone who has shared their creation with the world, and help anyone who knows an artist to understand their sometimes frustration.
Steve and the other members of Rebel Yell have been tweaking their songs and practising their performance for years, seeking a record deal. On the verge of giving up the dream, Steve is offered a recording contract by Head of State Records; but first they want him to secretly ghost-write an album for his idol, Hayley Savage, the lead singer of the largest rock band in the world.
Discovering it was a lot easier to claim he would never sell out when no-one was asking him to, Steve compromises just this once. But professional music is about more than just writing a good song. Caught between a rock goddess who is even more odd off stage and friends who only know he has changed, Steve begins to doubt even his own talent.
Robinson’s style is modern and accessible, providing moments of exceptional beauty without ever taking attention from the story.
The main plot is skilfully constructed, providing steadily more obvious clues that Steve is at risk of disaster without destroying the tension by revealing whether and in what way Steve’s compromises will affect him.
The issue of the cost of decisions runs through the sub-plots as well. Rather than fall back on the simplicity of a right answer, Robinson places Steve in situations where his only option is to choose the cost he will pay.
As with the plot, Robinson builds his characters from a series of plausible steps. Steve’s initial perfect idealism is lost not in a rush, but from a myriad choices to remain pure or accept the world. With purity sometimes closer to wilful pig-headedness and compromise sometimes a necessary step toward better art, the reader swings between sympathising with Steve and wishing he would grow up; but does not question why he makes the choices he does.
Providing a counter-point to Steve’s naivete, Hayley is burdened by knowledge, both of what success can really feel like and of how large the difference between good and great can be. Trapped between a desire to save Steve from himself and the need to let him find the answers himself, she offers what wisdom she can in the hopes she will find a way past the wall of his self-conviction.
This struggle between innocence and experience is similarly played out in the other characters: Steve’s band-mates each live the intense seriousness of youth; professional musicians and record executives endure the hollow relief of perspective.
The only real weakness, and it is minor, is a slight sugar-coating of the ending. While Robinson does not hold back when showing Steve’s turmoil when just making music isn’t enough, he takes his foot off the pedal at the last moment. So – despite ending with Steve as sadder and wiser man – readers expecting Steve to face real consequences for his unethical choices might be slightly disappointed.
I enjoyed this novel immensely. I recommend it to any reader looking for a character-driven exploration of the potential costs of success.
I received an unproofed copy from the author without obligation to review.