Advertisement - Content continues below
Books

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev: An exploration of feminist agency

Dawnie Walton’s novel is a thoughtful page-turner that locks into its groove early on, writes Chris Deerin

Novels about rock music have not always been successful. In fact, they have rarely been successful. There’s something about the subject matter that defies literary capture – perhaps because it is already too cartoonish, too cliched, to survive the transplant from one artistic field to another.

Few authors have the skill to skirt the siren swamp of cheesiness and stereotype and deliver something worthwhile. What space does the decadent, ant-snorting chaos of Ozzy Osbourne’s life leave for fiction? Or the production line of shrink-wrapped boybands? Is there any darker idea than the 27 Club? What could be more extreme than the Mötley Crüe autobiography?

And yet, in recent years there has been a consistently fine run of such novels – David Mitchell’s Utopia Avenue, rock ’n’ roll sci-fi set amid the unspooling freedoms of the 1960s; Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, which leans heavily on Fleetwood Mac’s story; Jennifer Egan’s much-celebrated A Visit From the Goon Squad; Alan Warner’s latest, Kitchenly 434.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton easily takes a place on this list. It is the story of Opal Jewel, who explodes on to the 1970s New York scene with a howl of Afro-punk rage, and Neville Charles, a gifted but goofy young British songwriter who becomes her partner. The events that saw the pair reach the brink of stardom before their career was derailed by social and racial conflict are told in retrospect, through a series of interviews by S Sunny Curtis, a young magazine editor whose late father drummed on their records.

Support The Big Issue and our vendors by signing up for a subscription.

In the modern day, Opal is a recluse while Nev has gone on to become a Phil Collins-style solo star. The pair do not speak, and their long-ago split is shrouded in mystery. It is something to do with a murder that occurred at their final concert. Curtis sets out to discover the truth.

Advertisement - Content continues below
Advertisement - Content continues below

Opal has lost none of her edge, though. “I understand what people are really trying to ask me is this,” she tells Curtis. “‘How did a woman so black and so ugly manage to believe she could be somebody?’” Those who were around her at the height of her fame remember her differently, as something extraordinary, all shaved head and dazzling conceptual outfits: “Like a page from Vogue magazine come to life”; “She was like a holiday on Mars”.

Walton has delivered a thoughtful page-turner that locks into its groove early on, and offers a timely exploration of both feminist agency and America’s seemingly insoluble problem with race.

The Final Revival of Opal and Nev by Dawnie Walton is out now (Quercus, £14.99)

Advertisement - Content continues below

Support The Big Issue and our vendors this Christmas

Every time you buy a copy of The Big Issue, subscribe or donate, you are helping our vendors to work their way out of poverty by providing 'a hand up not a hand out.' You’re helping Big Issue vendors achieve their #BigWish

Recommended for you

Read All
Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French
Top 5 Books

Top 5 books for rebel girls, chosen by Vivian French

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing
Book review

Book reviews: The Fell and The Selfless Act of Breathing

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday
Books

The past, present and future of Mr Men and Little Miss books as they celebrate their 50th birthday

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days
Edith Blais

What I learned from being held hostage for 450 days

Most Popular

Read All
Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views
1.

Video showing Boris Johnson repeatedly 'lying' to parliament hits 40 million views

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears
2.

Legacy benefits freeze left disabled people living on ‘historically’ low payments, court hears

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots
3.

'Noel Gallagher was mega hungover and Will.i.am kept walking off' - The stories behind Big Issue photoshoots

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'
4.

Plans to remove British citizenship without notice 'would repeat Windrush mistakes'