Monday 4 February 2013

I like Billy Joel – A Review of Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner - Reviewed by Julienne Durber

I like Billy Joel.  There, I've said it.  The music of the multi award winning, rock and roll hall of fame member who wrote such popular tunes as Uptown Girl, Piano Man and Just The Way You Are makes me happy.

A piano, man
So what?  Some of you are undoubtedly thinking.  He's all right.
Really?  Billy Joel?  Others may be sniggering behind your hands.
What has this got to do with Maggot Moon?  Many more may be shouting.

As you can see, I'm a long-haired guy who's quite fond of purple.  When I'm not writing I sing and play guitar in a rock band.  My iTunes is crammed with Muse, Metallica, The Killers, System of a Down, Kaiser Chiefs … you get the idea.  Piano-based rock and roll pop from the 70s and early 80s should be something I hate.  But it's not.  I like it, and that's that.

Now when a friend whose opinion I respect greatly in all matters literary told me I should definitely read Maggot Moon, I bought it straight away without even looking at it (we were standing near a book stall at the time), shoved it into my rucksack and went on with my day.

A week later I pulled it out and read the jacket notes, wondering what it was actually about.  First off is a quote from the wonderful Meg Rosoff
'Dazzling, chilling, breathtaking.  A perfect book.'
High praise indeed, but what's it about?
Hector and Standish are friends.
Nice.  I like odd names.  I own one myself.
It then goes on, and this is where the alarm bells started to ring.
… live together in Zone Seven … the Motherland can keep them … under surveillance … moon landing …
And finishes with
A powerfully original and moving story.
We'll see …

Without giving anything away, the main aspect of the setting and a key element of the plot are concepts that I've seen explored before … a lot.  The BBC have produced plays about the events that Gardner is hinting lead to the dominance of the Motherland.  Sci-fi comic stories and time travel shorts have mused on what would have happened if … And I even remember a sketch on the Two Ronnies show in the 70s that featured a similar set up.  There are documentaries and websites aplenty loaded with evidence and conspiracy theories that back up real life claims – seen it, done it, poo-pooed it.  On paper, I shouldn't have found anything engaging or exciting in this book.

But I absolutely love it!  Like Mr Joel, it makes me happy (sad, excited, dismayed).  In Sally Gardner's hands, the voice of Standish and his view of the events and situations lifts the whole story to such soaring heights that I don't mind that I've seen these concepts before.  In fact I barely even noticed them.  Dramatic, emotion packed moments are handled so deftly and originally that they make me want to rethink my own writing.

Julian Crouch's stark illustrations that run throughout the book add a whole extra dimension of beautifully sinister grubbiness.

I have a section on one of my bookshelves for things I will read over and over.  There aren't may books in it but Maggot Moon is now one of them.

So I'm not going to tell you anything more about Maggot Moon by Sally Gardner, I'm just going to say you should definitely read it.  That's what my friend did for me, and I'd like to pass on the favour.

Ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ah … ahhhh … uptown girl ;)

Images from Maggot Moon and


  1. I like Billy Joel, too. AND, my dirtier secret, The Backstreet Boys. There I've said it, too (it was amongst my collection of Bach, Beatles, Belle and Sebastian, Bob Dylan, Nick Drake. It's just ok to like what you like). Glad you liked it. I've bought it (probably same time you did) and not read it yet. I will soon. And sooner now I've read this. Nice post. Happy writing...

    1. I see your Backstreet Boys and raise you ... no, way too embarrassing for a public forum ;)

    2. (I shall tell you in secret when there's no one else within earshot)

  2. Okay ... I'm sold. And I love Billy Joel. Yeah. Piano Man.

    1. Brilliant, Candy. I hope you enjoy it (the book, that is, as well as Piano Man.)

  3. I'm a big We Didn't Start the Fire fan myself.

    I think you've hit the nail on the head about what a good book is. You want to be surprised, get something unexpected. Something that makes your friend say: trust me, just read this, don't ask questions.

    Like you just did! (So thank you.)

  4. No problem. It's the best example of 'voice' I've read in years. I couldn't let it go unnoticed :)

  5. Haven't read it and now I want to. But do the illustrations come up on the Kindle version: this is what I need to know!

    p.s. I like Billy Joel too. We seem to be uncovering a strange streak of obsessive musical confessions here...

    1. I don't know whether the illustrations appear on the Kindle version, but I shall attempt to find out. It would seem to ba an oversight if they didn't!

      As for the Joel fandom ... who would have thought it?

    2. Update - the illustrations don't appear on the Kindle version. Hotkey decided that their 'flick-book' nature wouldn't come across on the pageless Kindle format, so they omitted them. (one vote for real books over electronic?)