MudSharks: Dave Barbarossa (Ignite Books)

Percussion legend Dave Barbarossa turns his hand to fiction with successful results.

This is Barbarossa’s first novel and it struck me at once as a pleasant change from the usual biography and auto-biography associated with punk literature. When I asked him why he’d chosen to write fiction rather than an account of his own experiences, he said that punk was ‘always about looking forward, not about looking back’ and although the novel is written from the perspective of someone looking back on a certain period of their youth, the end of the book is presented as not the end of his life, nor necessarily the end of his experiences with his band, but the beginning of a new phase of his life.

The book follows the narrating character’s journey with his band ‘up and down and out’ (Barbarossa in an interview with John Robb at Rebellion 2012.) and draws on some of Barbarossa’s own experiences, ‘your first novel is always about what you know.’ But the characters most definitely take on a life of their own and although it is a fairly simple plot: teenager leaves home> gets job>discovers love of drumming>joins band>makes it big>things fall apart> new beginnings, cliché is scarcely present.

The first few chapters jump back and forth between two periods of the character’s life and then fix on his childhood and work towards the second period before continuing it on to the end. This felt a bit messy to start with as the time period switching was a bit sporadic and the same effect could perhaps have been achieved with a single flashback but it certainly gives the reader something to keep them interested as they wonder how the character got from point A to point B. The first chapter is a bit heavy on detail and this slows the pace of the story down, but it does serve the purpose of building up a picture of the character’s relationship with his father, so is not detrimental to the novel overall and any reader slightly put off by it, should definitely persevere as the chapters which follow make it more than worth-while.

The characters are all portrayed with such care and attention to their individual complexities that it is obvious Barbarossa has taken adequate time to understand and treasure them. Stereotypes and flat characters are few and far between as each character grows and changes over the course of the novel. The vulnerabilities of the characters are given as much importance as their strengths and this gives them a lovely 3D quality to them. It really is a character-driven piece, and a well-written one at that.

I believe Barbarossa can improve, and indeed SHOULD improve with his next novel, but this certainly is a cracking start to novel writing and even without the title of ‘first novel’ it’s a very good book I highly recommend reading. It doesn’t matter if you aren’t even remotely interested in punk music because the genre the characters find themselves pursuing is almost incidental and it’s the human drama that is the focus.

A cracking good read!

For more information see www.barbarossabeat.com

All words by Lizzie Alderdice (Snapping Turtle Press) Read more from Lizzie HERE

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