The Friday Arts Diary

Our cultural picks for the week ahead.

Art

Spread across the city, Edinburgh - Festival Promenade, 2 August – 2 September

All Edinburgh Festival punters soon realise that the main problem facing them is how to use their finite time when presented with the choice of such a vast multitude of shows. One answer is to take part in a Festival Promenade. Led by Artist Anthony Schrag, these walks will take you across some of the city’s historical monuments and public spaces, where a series of renowned artists have been invited to create outdoor art in what is the Edinburgh Festival’s most ambitious commissioning programme to date. Artists include Turner Prize winner Susan Philips, Callum Innes and Andrew Miller. If a walk in a park is too conventional for you, Schrag will also be offering climbing tours, alleyway tours, art pub crawls, and afternoon nap tours.

Film

Curzon Soho, London, W1D – Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry,  10 – 16 August

In Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry journalist and filmmaker Alison Klayman documents the life of China's most internationally revered contemporary artist. From 2008 to 2010, she accompanies Ai at piviotal moments of his work, family life, and political struggle. The resulting exploration merges art and activism in a portrait, not just of one man, but of contemporary China.

Theatre

The National Theatre, SE1 - The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time, 24 July - 12 September

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time is a stage version of Mark Haddon's award-winning novel of the same name, which follows the adventures of an autistic teenager, Christopher, as he tries to unravel the mystery surrounding the death of his neighbour's dog. The play was adapted by playwright Simon Stephens and is directed by Marianne Elliott. The performances of Luke Treadaway, Paul Ritter and Nicola Walker have been described by several newspapers as "stellar" and "poignant".

TV

More 4 - What’s my body worth? 13 August, 10pm

In this age of austerity many are considering alternative ways of supplementing their income, yet few have ventured as far as trying to profit from their own embodiment. In this programme journalist Storm Theunissen explores the ethics, legality and stark reality of the industry which preys upon those desperate enough to sell their body - whether it’s working in the sex trade, or selling bodily materials, such as eggs, fluids and even organs.

Music

Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh - Brazil! Brazil! Presents Latin Live, 2–26 August

The people behind Brazil! Brazil!, who wowed Edinburgh in 2010, return to the festival to get audiences on their feet with favela funk and samba reggae. Acts include Magary Lord, Black Semba and Paloma Gomez. Latin Live promises to be an energizing blend of music, dance and vibrant costumes.

Edinburgh Fringe promoters hold up reflective letters (Image: Getty)
Getty
Show Hide image

David Keenan's new novel is a dizzying recall of adolescence

This Is Memorial Device vividly recalls the teen years of the post-punk generation. I'm just not sure I wanted to remember.

Imagine dropping down the ­metaphysical wormhole to the scene of your adolescent self, with all your mates; with all that immortal music, sex, drugs, madness and tempestuousness. For some of us it’s a place we would rather not revisit. For the post-punk generation, David Keenan’s debut novel sends us plunging into that era anyway – violently, viscerally, surreally – in this “Hallucinated Oral History of the Post-Punk scene in Airdrie, Coatbridge and Environs 1978-1986”. Keenan’s real-life west coast Scotland is the home of a fictional dissonant, radical group called Memorial Device, whose underground misadventures are transmitted through a constellation of eyewitness accounts and psychedelic reveries from the damaged, delirious misfits in and around a band that sounded, as the narrator Ross Raymond describes it, “like Airdrie, like a black fucking hole”.

Such were the post-punk provinces across the UK, vividly realised here, populated by John Peel apostles transcending dead-end reality in bedsits wallpapered with pages from the NME and Sounds, romantic young minds consumed by Johnny Thunders and Iggy Pop, Jack Kerouac and H P Lovecraft. These are murky everytowns where, as Ross writes, “music deformed my life rather than just changed it”.

Keenan – an author, journalist, jazz critic, obsessive scholar of psych-folk – has a febrile imagination and his fiction debut is a fantastical meander in intense, magical-realist prose. Much like in youth itself, you’ve no idea what’s happening, or where you’re going, each chapter a crunching gear change of new characters who fizz in, dazzle, disappear and reappear. The chapter headings are filled with unfathomable imagery:

 

22. Ships Rising Up and Passing Through the Water Full of Sunlight and Memory the Tricks That It Plays: Bruce Cook on Autonomic Dreaming with Lucas and Vanity and all the baggage that comes back to haunt you like ghostly ships at the bottom of the ocean in a graveyard beneath the sea breaking free and rising to the surface.

 

This is the breathless style that dominates the book. Full stops are sporadically abandoned for chaotic streams of consciousness (Paul Morley’s sentences are tweets in comparison), like being trapped inside the amphetamine-boggled brain of Spud in the celebrated job-interview scene from Trainspotting (a struggle at times, with none of the daft jokes). With each new voice comes more forensic musical analysis, lurid recollections – of a barbaric scalping, of wanking on acid, of porn, puke, piss – and densely packed rushes of salty information. Ross’s co-author Johnny McLaughlin recalls his sexual exploits as a 17-year-old: he was “a collector . . . a gourmet, a pussy-eater (a body-gorger) (a piss-drinker, a shit-lapper), a woman-lover, a tit-biter, an auto-asphyxiator (an ass-lover, a panty-smotherer), a heel-worshipper (a hose-hugger)”. There’s as much sex here, it turns out, as music.

There are inevitable echoes of those fellow countrymen of Keenan’s, the literary dark lords Irvine Welsh and John Niven, yet little hilarity. But, mercifully, there are also passages of surrealist beauty: through prison bars, a main character is hypnotised by the moon, bathed in its “strange silver glow that made it seem like it was on fire, like ice on fire”, feeling “like a crystal ­being cleansed”. The last chapter is stunning, a soaring, existentialist, cosmic crescendo.

Memorial Device’s lead singer, the charismatic, amnesia-blighted, journal-writing Lucas, has his writing described as “a walking frame or a wheelchair, a crutch, which when you think about it is what most writing is, something to support the figure of the writer, so that he doesn’t fall back in the primordial soup of everyone else, which is no one”. Ultimately, This Is Memorial Device uses post-punk merely as its skeleton frame. It is a meditation on memory and perspective, on the magical forces of language, on the absurdity of existence and the dreadful thoughts bubbling like toxic fluid below the fragile surface of every human brain. Despite its black-humour set pieces (and a comically colossal, micro-detailed appendix, the undertaking of a madman), it’s a serious, disturbing book, free-form literary jazz for agonised over-thinkers, perhaps like the minds of intense young men.

In these creatively risk-averse times, it’s heroically bizarre, if more admirable than lovable. By the end, you’re exhausted, and happy to file it away for ever, along with the young life you no longer wish to live.

Sylvia Patterson is the author of “I’m Not With the Band” (Sphere)

This Is Memorial Device by David Keenan is published by Faber & Faber (298pp, £14.99)

This article first appeared in the 16 February 2017 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times