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The Age of Anxiety - Book Review

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by Steven G (subscribe)
Too much tertiary education... Former performer/wrestler...Former teacher... Scientist... Published author... Father... Want to be a writer if I grow up...
Published November 19th 2019
A challenging but rewarding book
I am not sure what to make of this book. Okay, the fact I am writing a review means, as regular readers will know, that I liked it. But… Wow

Oh, the book is The Age of Anxiety by Pete Townshend (2019).
anxiety, age, townshend, pete, book, novel


Now, I pre-ordered this book months and months ago, and I had almost forgotten about it when, In November of this year (2019), it turned up in my mailbox. I ordered it based one thing and one thing only – I am a fan of the band The Who, unashamedly so. My thoughts went along the lines of if this is as good as his lyrics and the Lifehouse Project (multi-CD set, music, orchestrations and the radio play; I had to order it from England, cost me almost $400 Australian, and it is a mind-blowingly fantastic piece of work), then it would be well worth reading.

I started it, struggled to get "into" it for the first few chapters, and then… bang! I couldn't put the damn thing down.

Okay, story… There were a heap of little stories running through the whole thing. Tales of relationships and artistic merit and things like that. But three over-arching stories dominated. Louis, the narrator (well, one of two… it's complicated), having had a negative influence on those he loved. The fine line between genius and insanity… is there even such a line? And that sometimes the puppet-master is really freakin' good at pulling all the strings.

It does not really coalesce into a complete whole until the last fifth of the book. The opening, as I said, is clunky. Sometimes the story feels like it loses focus. And the whole meeting at the hospital thing and then Molly being there reeks of deus ex machina ministrations (although, did Selena have something to do with any of it? That is certainly hinted very subtly…) are some of the negatives I found reading this.

But the positives… wow.

First, I got the impression this whole novel was partially autobiographical. There were elements only some-one like Townshend, with his many years in the spotlight, would have known, the people he would have seen, the physical descriptions of some characters. And especially the emotional feelings of guilt and a need for redemption – the were really spot on. Now, as I have mentioned before, I really don't care about the personal lives of those artists I am a fan of. It's none of my business, and if I ever sell a book enough to get "fans", I don't think I'd want them to want to know all about me, either. Sure, I read autobiographies if I think the person is worth it (like Townshend's The Who bandmate, Roger Daltrey), but rumours and other stuff, not for me. So, how much is really based on his life, I do not know. I just get the impression there is a lot more Pete Townshend in here than not.

Second, there were times when I felt this was a book based on The Who song 'Pure & Easy' ("…There once was a note/ Pure and Easy…" – one of my favourite The Who songs, by the way), talking about music and chaos and notes coming from within.

One thing that struck me was that this book was reminiscent of another book released this year – Sean Williams' Impossible Music. The concept of music being more than just the notes we hear, that it has a true meaning beyond that is deeply ingrained in both works.

But the thing I liked most about the book were the soundscape descriptors peppered throughout. I am not a musician (despite desperate attempts in that direction), but I like to think of myself as a writer, and these segments felt like they were a merging of the two, and done so well.

Does Pete Townshend hear this himself? The way it's written, you could really believe that.

The ending does feel a little convenient, yes, but after reading through the whole book, I actually felt happy for Louis that he found someone… even if that person did not come across as particularly pleasant throughout the rest of the book.

It's really hard to describe much more of what's going on without giving huge spoilers, but the blurb at the back does mention a former rock star becoming a strange painter, an art dealer coming to grips with his visions, an Irish girl who stabbed her father, a young musician who sees visions of his own and the fact things spiral out of control.

It also mentions that this was "{c}onceived jointly as an opera." I would want to be in the audience for that. No, seriously. That could be the most mind-blowing thing I've ever experienced.

There were a number of little phrases I wanted to quote here, but as I typed them, out of context as they were, I realised that away from the book they really did not have meaning.

I know this book will not appeal to everyone. It is not my usual speculative fiction genre piece, not the sort of non-fiction I like, not the other things that sit in my bookcases, but something altogether different and – I use this term unironically – unique. I have read nothing like it, not really.

In the end, I really enjoyed it.

I have three more books in my "to be read" pile (one unpublished). Once I have finished with them, I think I'll return to this one, give it another go. I have a feeling that on each subsequent read there'll be more stuff to glean from it, more things to learn.

A challenging read. But well worth it.
pete, townshend, who, age of anxiety, book, novel
Pete in 2012

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