Note: This piece also appears as the introduction to Gig.
Aficionados of the work of James Lovegrove have come to expect the unexpected. No two of his books are alike: The Hope was a fantastical fable set aboard a vast ocean-going Liner; Escardy Gap, written with Peter Crowther, a more traditional horror novel in the manner of King; Days, a dystopic take on rampant consumerism; Foreigners was Lovegrove writing futuristic science fiction, with aliens, but done with idiosyncratic panache; Untied Kingdom, a British apocalypse tale in the tradition of Wyndham and Christopher, and a satire on leadership and its absence. What these disparate novels have in common, though, is a thoroughgoing concern about the human condition allied to a rigorous, scalpel-sharp prose style and a caustic observation of contemporary trends.
The book you hold in your hands is no exception. Once again Lovegrove rings the changes.
Gig is a novel presented as two novellas: an odd way of telling a story, you might think. And yet, upon finishing the novellas, the reader becomes aware that there was really never any other way of accomplishing the bicameral parable that is the story of Kim/Mik. Gig had to be told as two novellas. As a single novel, with characters and chapters interleaved, the palindromic playfulness would have been missing, and the subtle, singularly distinctive atmosphere created in each story lost or diluted. And it made sense to publish them in the old Ace Double back-to-back format, too -- though anyone hoping for the clichéd Ace starship-and-alien derring-do will be disappointed. Lovegrove is a more subtle wordsmith than that. Ever the story-teller, he combines a sense of rarefied unease with a mystery that reverberates through time, even though the story takes place over the course of a single day.
One of the many delights of Kim, as we watch the eponymous anti-heroine pass through an almost predestined picaresque, in the brilliantly portrayed dystopia of Rotor City with its vanished past and vanquished hope, is Lovegrove's skill and humanity in portraying the obsessional behaviour of Kim Reid. She is victim not only of a stultifying and disenfranchised society, but of forces that exert their influence from within her tortured psyche and from without (one of the many polarisations in this mirror-image of a book). Kim, for all her self-realised evil, is a sympathetic character, adrift in a disaffected, run-down society, with only her singular quest driving her on towards possible salvation, or destruction.
The bleakness of the vision is not without humour, however. The citizens of Rotor City cling to the past, and especially to music, and in a satirical dig at our weakness for nostalgia Lovegrove hilariously portrays a running battle between two rival gangs of Beatle groupies. Contrast this with the quietly understated horror in the shooting of Lime in chapter seven.
Gig is as much a comment on the nature of our materialistic society as it is on the power of delusion and cult-worship. The rock-band God Dog is a product of Rotor City -- the one vital commodity it has produced since its once-thriving aero-industry was wound down. In Kim's identification with God Dog, and its Messiah-like leader Mik Dyer, Lovegrove effectively portrays a binary division of haves and have-nots -- yet another reflection, a social palindrome to mirror the dozens of textual palindromes gleefully scattered throughout the novellas.
In the denouement of Kim, Lovegrove answers many questions but, with the skill we've come to expect from this writer, leaves many more conundrums to be pondered.
Sator. Arepo. Tenet. Opera. Rotas.
In Gig James Lovegrove has created not only a pair of novellas that will stand proudly alongside the many volumes about rock-stars and the music business, but a convincing portrait of an ordinary individual elevated to extraordinary, one could say almost messianic/demonic, heights... or even depths.
Mik is channelled through the viewpoint of Dave Noon, but its focus is Mik Dyer, leader of the rock band Dog God. Dave is Mik's life-long friend, a man of little talent other than his unswerving devotion to the rock-star. While Dave is pragmatic and literal-minded, Mik is enigmatic, aloof, the victim of a sadistically brutal alcoholic father. The friendship between Mik and Dave, their dependence upon each other for different reasons, is one of the pivotal delights of Gig. To have portrayed Mik without Dave would have been to portray a mysterious figure divorced from the real world. In presenting Mik through Dave's eyes, Lovegrove shows a man whose thoughts and actions are a response to past experience -- and manages at the same time to generate reader sympathy without sentimentality. Mik Dyer might be an adulated and mega-rich rock-star, but he is also a man psychologically shaped by the past: he is real. We believe in him because we know where he comes from, and the creation of this belief is vital in sustaining reader-credulity in the light of the story's riveting climax.
It is to Lovegrove's credit that he has managed to people the novella with not just two fully-rounded, fleshed-out characters, but an entire lesser cast of well-realised dramatis personae. The band's manager, Melba Kramer, is a tough, avaricious, frighteningly cynical business-woman, but is in no way a stereotype. Ronno Connor is a sleazy DJ whose antipathy to Mik Dyer and the band during a radio interview is if anything made more cynical by his casually friendly off-air asides. The other members of Dog God come over as real people, too, in their response to the day-to-day ennui that is a rock-star's lot, and in their strained relations with the leader of their band. Convincing, too, is Lovegrove's portrayal of the music business -- the industry and the music-making. He knows his stuff, and his descriptions of the band's psycho-dynamic is as utterly realistic as his rendering of their music, always a difficult feat for a writer to accomplish successfully.
But the hub of the novella is the eponymous Mik, and his apotheosis. The dawning awareness that all is not as it appears is testimony to Lovegrove's skill in presenting just enough detail to keep the reader wondering how much control Mik Dyer exerts over his own destiny. For much of his life, Mik was a victim; quite how much he has turned the tables and is now in control only becomes apparent in a carefully orchestrated -- in both senses of the word -- finale.
And the palindromes... aha, the palindromes. They work on many levels, in many ways. One of the incidental delights of Gig is discovering how many of the tricky little devils exist within the book, which is itself a palindrome.
James Lovegrove is a writer from who we should expect the unexpected, and in Gig he has delivered a unique delight.