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Tuesday, August 08, 2017

Another Groove Book Report - The Forensic Records Society - Magnus Mills (Bloomsbury $29.99)

This might be Mill's best yet.  It's a hilarious and sometimes kinda surreal exploration of power and collector fanaticism, flavored with some really, really good records.  Now we've sort of been in this place before.  Nick Horby gave us Hi-Fidelity, the book about music and obsession.  This is sort of like this.  There's a quick succession of bickering, desertion, subterfuge and rivalry all wrapped up in a relationship between two men with a passion.  In this case the passion is for vinyl records.  They decide to create a society for the appreciation of fine records records. Their mandate is simple enough.  To elevate the art of listening, approaching it with forensic detail. CSI for music appreciation, if you will.

Initially the 'society' enjoys some moderate success in the back room of their local boozer.  It starts the way most clubs do - over a pint and some onion and cheese crisps, with other keen punters drawn by the promise of the weekly gathering to talk vinyl.  The strictest of rules are enforced, limiting attendance to only the purist musical appreciators and soon a rival society is founded with a much more open and broad appeal.   But as the club gains popularity, its founder's uncompromising policies and attitude result in a schism of sorts and breakaway groups start to form. Then we get the arrival of a young lady, Alice, who causes further fractures.  The vulnerable society breaks ups, rifts are forged, chasms widen.  And Mills goes to work examining the surreal nature of these ordinary lives.  This is partly familiar as we all know of clubs and groups with their own cliche's and countercultures - the originals and the breakaway factions.  Every sport or society or recreational pursuit has a story to tell.  Mills' tell his as the master of the comic deadpan luring you in with tales of the ordinary to make you comfortable before draping a cloak of awkward familiarity over your shoulders.

Trying to identify the tracks played at meetings from their titles alone was also a bonus.  TG for youtube because I do't still have the luxury of rifling through a massive collection of old 45's.

It's no wonder that this his ninth novel is so good.  He's had the practice.  His style is unique and is always an absolute pleasure. The strictest of rules are enforced, limiting attendance to only the purist musical appreciators and soon a rival society is founded with a much more open and broad appeal. And thus the scene is set for a classic Mills tale.  As always, he manages to keep his novels deceptively and deliciously subtle.  The 'Englishman' is at play here I think.  Talk soft and stab hard with a simple premise to guide us to a comedy of protocols and manners. His prose hints at a deeper meaning that is never made implicit.  This could be about fanaticism as I indicated above.  Then it could be a religious adherence to perceived truth or the dangerous power of cults and the frailty of human nature.  Or it could be just about about groups of music lovers getting together of an evening for an audio love-in.  No doubt the local Dungeons and Dragons club has the same issues, yes?  On the whole, it's a thoroughly enjoyable read.

Conscious Man by the Jolly Brothers 
(one of the tracks played and discussed in the book) 

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