30 December 2007

Shena MacKay, Music Upstairs, 1965

Shena MacKay’s first novel, which is set in London’s Earls Court before the ’60s had really got into their swing. Sidonie O’Neill, young, impressionable and far too passive, becomes the lover of both Pam and Lenny, her neighbours, and finds herself veering between the two while ignorant of Lenny’s increasingly obsessive behaviour towards her. Written when she was just 19, MacKay’s writing could perhaps have done with some tightening as well as some development of the scant few descriptive passages. But the narrative technique is similar to that of reality TV today, following Sidonie around while documenting the details of London life and building towards a random and unpredictable ending (while the sex remains strictly off the page). Its connection with the present is becoming ever more tenuous because it was intended to be contemporary and written very much for bohemian Londoners of the time, although the reader can still get a good sense of atmosphere and location; if memories can fill in the missing details of a grubby London bedsit life then Music Upstairs can still feel like a rather authentic journey back in time.   PY

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