Review by Roisin Corbett
The Rise and Fall of the Miraculous Vespas tells the hilarious, yet occasionally heart-wrenching, story of a young band from Ayrshire, Scotland, trying to make their way in the 1980’s music scene. The tale of their 1984 surprise smash hit, rapid rise to fame, and subsequent fall from grace is told retrospectively, through interviews with their decidedly coarse manager, Max Mojo. The story is also interspersed with an account of the gangland politics of the region, set against a bleak Thatcherite backdrop.
This is the second book of Ross’s Disco Days Trilogy, and although the stories are described as running parallel to each other, I would recommend reading The Last Days of Disco first. I personally did not do that, and although I don’t feel that my comprehension of the plot was negatively impacted, there were definitely points where I felt I may have been missing out on references to Ross’s earlier novel.
Within this book, Ross is particularly adept at world building. His gritty and authentic depiction of Scottish life in the 1980’s is particularly hard hitting, and is very clearly rooted in the author’s own teenage years. Because of this, the novel itself is imbued with an acute sense of reality, feeling in parts almost like a legitimate memoir.
Music is a central part of the novel from start to finish. I was particularly enamoured with the appendix at the end of the novel containing a list of songs curated by Ross to fit with the novel’s musical soundscape. I would also urge all readers to visit Orenda Books’ website, where two songs have actually been written and performed, ostensibly by the Miraculous Vespas themselves. Adding a multimedia aspect such as this one was an inspired choice, and again works to create the atmosphere of reality that makes the novel so unusual.
However, to me at least, the book is not flawless. Unarguably, the novel contains a strong cast of characters, who are all thoroughly explored and developed. There are, however, an awful lot of them. The list of characters and their affiliations at the start of the novel was an invaluable resource for me; without it, I would have struggled to keep up with the numerous supporting characters, particularly those associated with the various gangs. Although not the worst thing in the world, this did make the novel rather slow going at times.
I also find it necessary to comment on Ross’s writing style. Like with Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting, the novel is written in a Scottish dialect. Although this did not prove a problem to me, I can see that this may be more of a barrier to others.
However despite this, I did enjoy the novel, and would definitely recommend it. It is extremely visceral, and blurs the lines between reality and fiction incredibly effectively. By the end of the novel, I was actively questioning whether the Vespas were indeed a real band. After reading this novel, I almost wish they were.