Review: Three book picks that take you back to the ′70s

Brad Wheeler, Kelly Nestruck and Kate Taylor from The Globe and Mail Arts section recommend three groovy books set or written in the 1970s.

noisemaker by Andy Tolson

(Moose House Publications, 272 pages)

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Punk music pioneer Richard Hell sang about escape in his song empty generation: “I said let me out of here before I’m even born.” The young, sneering protagonist in Andy Tolson’s fictional memoir noisemaker can’t take a break for it fast enough. He’s Billy Stamp – a Haligonian Holden Caulfield with a drum kit and a wanderlust for anarchy in Britain

It’s 1979. Billy arrives in rainy, dirty London with plans to become a punk rock star. In search of his “tribe” he comes across the passages he’s read about in magazines, but without much luck. At this turning point in history, the clock has ticked from punk to post-punk. Billy runs and runs after.

When he auditions for a band, he is told his tempo is off. But hey, he’s just out of high school – whose pace isn’t up at that age? The spirit of Who drummer Keith Moon is one of its guides. A blind, mystical jazzman is another – a bit of a cliché when it comes to narrative devices. Aside from that, novelist Tolson has produced for the first time a tale about teenage angst, family estrangement, and finding your own groove. As Billy struggles to find his rhythm, the author is caught up in his own. — Brad Wheeler

The Rotter ClubJonathan Coe

(Viking Press, 416 pages)

Jonathan Coe’s 2001 coming-of-age novel, set in 1970s Birmingham, England, follows a group of teenagers who, through the blinders of puberty, see all of the great upheavals of that decade in Britain, from the strikes to the IRA bombings to the rise of Margaret Thatcher.

What has stuck in my mind over the years about Coe’s book, apart from a few comically humiliating tropes worthy of Franzen, is how it explores the political struggles of the time through the music of the time – connecting points between the decline of Britain’s Unions and socialism and the rise of Thatcherism to the death of the prog rock scene and the emergence of the punk rock scene. The contrasting aesthetic of virtuosity and do-it-yourself explains as much about the world then as it does now – and Coe tests readers’ own sensibilities and ideologies on this front with a chapter towards the end consisting of a long sentence of 13,955 words. — J. Kelly nest print

the warsTimothy Findley

(Clarke, Irwin & Company, 226 pages)

Timothy Findleys the wars published in 1977. I must have read young Canadian Lieutenant Robert Ross’ book about the traumatic experiences of World War I soon after; It was one of the first literary novels I read outside of school.

Years later, the only scene I remembered was where socialite Lady Barbara d’Orsey visits a wounded lover in hospital – accompanied by his surrogate. It’s a pantomime that appears three times in the novel, so maybe that’s why it stuck. I remembered it as a unique example of callous self-respect.

Read it anyway the wars Now I realize that Findley is less simplistic. Barbara d’Orsey is so alive that she lacks any emotional mechanism to deal with the half-dead men returning to England from the front. Also, some of the final scenes are painful and ambiguous enough that a young reader might not have noticed them.

In the 1970s these events were as new as the 1960s are today; Seniors could remember the “War to End All Wars.” Findley’s text, which shifts between traditional third-person narrative and an unnamed modern explorer delving into Ross’ history, is packed with details about transportation, combat, and smut that feel like eyewitness accounts. But the book, widely regarded as one of the finest war novels ever written, was of its own era, a creature of that nationalistic heyday of Canadian literature in the 1970s. Said novelist Guy Vanderhaeghe the wars There he discovered that you can tell Canadian stories. — Kate Taylor

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