THE ALTERNATIVE HERO by Tim Thornton

Book Quote:

“This is fast turning into one of those painfully unsurprising Ideas of Clive’s that amount to absolutely fuck-all.”

Book Review:

Review by Guy Savage  (SEP 30, 2010)

Tim Thornton, the author of The Alternative Hero and Death of an Unsigned Band springs from the Nick Hornby realm of fiction. Hornby, one of the most interesting British writers of his generation excels with the creation of the fictional disconnected male obsessive and his two great loves: music and sports. Now here’s Tim Thornton, and his wonderful, engaging and very funny book, The Alternative Hero. First the disclaimer: if you don’t like music, then go away you boring person. But if you’re like me and connect various episodes of your misspent youth with the music of the day (whatever era that may be), then there’s an excellent chance that you may enjoy this book–the tale of a thirty-something who never really got over the carefree days of concerts, music memorabilia, and the unrestrained hero worship of a rock musician.

The Alternative Hero begins at a 1995 Aylesbury rock concert attended by Clive Beresford. When the book begins, he’s past drunk, unadvisedly goading heavy-metal fans, and staggering around making a nuisance of himself as he waits for his all-time favourite band, headliners Thieving Magpies to perform. But something goes horribly wrong when the Magpies take the stage. Lead singer Lance Webster grows increasingly erratic and is finally handcuffed & arrested. Lance’s “subsequent career became an increasingly pitiful series of cock-ups and false starts until he finally gave up in 1999.” And then Lance…disappeared.

This should all be past history, but Clive, Lance’s loyal number one fan hasn’t moved on, and perhaps that’s partly due to the fact that he was fired from his job with Craze magazine thanks to his emotional reaction to Lance’s arrest. Now years later, Clive’s friends are married and allotted to some definition of the word “successful,” but Clive is still locked in frozen adolescence–that’s a nice way of saying he’s a fuck-up. It all boils down to Clive barely hanging onto a marginal job (“it was only meant to be for a week”), while obsessing about the past and what happened to his icon Lance Webster. Here’s Clive on Lance:

“My obsession–as my ex-girlfriend termed it–with Webster died in 2002, when I’d finally tired of waiting for a follow-up to his debut solo album (Commercial Suicide, released in the same week as Oasis’ Be Here Now), but certainly his spectre has continued to clatter about in my skull like a bad relationship. It’s therefore not particularly surprising that I’m still dreaming about the man–or, more to the point, the absence of him.”

Then one day, Clive, now 33 spots Lance–or someone who could be Lance’s slightly fat elder brothercoming out of the neighbourhood dry cleaner’s. From that moment, Clive’s obsession is reawakened. Clive reasons that if he can just discover why Lance went berserk at the Aylesbury concert, he’ll be able, finally, to move on with his life. Of course, this may just be the marginally rational excuse to share the same space–even fleetingly–with the man who once meant a great deal to Clive:

“Unless you were a boring, unadventurous middle-class teenager living in a boring, unadventurous middle-class southern English town during the latter half of the 1980s, it’s almost impossible to conceive the seismic impact a man like Lance Webster and his band of Thieving Magpies could’ve had on someone like me.”

The novel slips back to Clive’s teenage-rock-concert years and these sections detail his unfortunate relationships, his school magazine articles, his fanzines, and the birth of Clive’s ambitions to be a music journalist. Clive’s life never recovered after the Aylesbury concert and now his writing is designated to Amazon reviews (“He’s right, Amazon should start paying me”). Determined to discover the truth behind Lance’s spectacularly self-destructive dive from fame, Clive also hopes to recuperate his own life in the process, and so he begins stalking Lance with hilarious consequences.

Chapter titles such as: two totally separate but equally fucking disastrous outcomes of me getting wankered and Why you’re sitting here still thinking about all this shit is beyond me appear along with suggested music listening for each chapter. While this is a gleefully funny tale with an antihero who’s a charming disaster, the novel also explores some more serious issues: why some bands stay on the horizon of the music history while others sink without a trace, and the North vs. South music divide. This is a totally engaging read, and Clive’s world is packed full of lively characters–there’s the ultra successful Billy (Clive finds him “both appalling and refreshing,)” and the upwardly mobile Alan Potter (AKA Anal Alan). Thornton’s wonderful characters add a great deal of warmth and energy to Clive’s disarmingly honest and funny narration:

“As you may have surmised by now, I have the most appalling willpower when it comes to drinking. Sometimes it borders on the ludicrous. I remember one Sunday I woke up feeling pretty miserable, and as the day progressed it struck me that I could make myself feel happier by not having a drink that day–give the liver and brain a break. This notion instantly cheered me up, lifting the proverbial dark cloud. I suddenly felt free from the, shall we say, shackles of alcohol. In fact I was so elated that I decided to celebrate by having a few beers.”

The Alternative Hero is Thornton’s impressive debut book. When he’s not making me laugh, Thornton is a drummer for the band Fink.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-4-0from 4 readers
PUBLISHER: Vintage; 1 edition (July 13, 2010)
REVIEWER: Guy Savage
AVAILABLE AS A KINDLE BOOK? YES! Start Reading Now!
AUTHOR WEBSITE: Wikipedia page on Tim Thornton
EXTRAS: Excerpt
MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Read our review of:

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September 30, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags:  · Posted in: Debut Novel, Drift-of-Life, Humorous, United Kingdom

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