NORTHERN SKY by Mark Radcliffe


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A group of childhood pals try to instigate a British folk revival in this seriocomic tale by Radcliffe, a BBC radio deejay.

Narrator Ed Beckinsale is so sensitive he’s willing to start fistfights over the things he’s sensitive about: After slugging a colleague during a dispute about The Faerie Queene, he’s fired from his teaching job at a university in northern England. Back in his hometown (and living with his mother), Ed reconnects with his old friends, who share his deep adoration of British singer-songwriters like John Martyn, Vashti Bunyan and, most sainted of all, Nick Drake. A pal’s offhand criticism of Drake once stoked Ed’s anger, and his then-girlfriend, Jeannie, was accidentally struck in the ensuing melee; back at his old haunt, the Northern Sky Folk Club, Ed tries to repair his relationship with Jeannie and help launch a folk collective that will feature members of Ed’s clique. There couldn’t be a more blatant knockoff of High Fidelity—readers of Nick Hornby’s novel will recognize the same lovelorn, bright, self-deprecating hero, music-obsessed and socially awkward second-bananas, out-of-touch parents, love interest—and the same rivalry for said love interest’s affections. To Radcliffe’s credit, he does ably emphasize the business of music as well as the love of it, though his insights into why an artist’s success doesn’t always match his skill aren’t very nuanced. (Lane, the handsome one, is the label’s star, while Mo, the homely songwriting genius, remains obscure.) The story climaxes as the Northern Sky artists gather at one of the country’s largest folk festivals, and the narrative soon gets shaky. Radcliffe seems so eager to give this tale the aura of pop-music legend—complete with drugs, petty jealousies and tragedy—that the conclusion feels overly engineered and infused with false drama.

A familiar story about love and pop music that ultimately slips out of key.

Pub Date: Nov. 15th, 2006
ISBN: 0-340-71569-3
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton/Trafalgar
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 2006