The Final Revival of Opal and Nev: An Exploration of the Feminist Agency
Dawnie Walton’s novel is a thoughtful page turner that locks into its groove very early on, writes Chris Deerin
The novel tells the story of Opal Jewel, who explodes onto the 1970s New York scene with a howl of Afro-punk rage, and Neville Charles, a talented but clumsy young British songwriter who becomes his partner. Image: Pexels
NOTRock music novels have not always been successful. In fact, they rarely succeeded. There is something about the subject that defies literary capture – perhaps because it is already too cartoonish, too cliché, to survive transplanting from one artistic field to another.
Few writers have the ability to sidestep the swamp of cheesy sirens and stereotypes and deliver anything worthwhile. How much space does the decadent, ant-sniffing chaos of Ozzy Osbourne’s life leave for fiction? Or the shrink-wrapped boy band production line? Is there a darker idea than the Club des 27? What could be more extreme than the autobiography of Mötley Crüe?
And yet in recent years there has been a good string of such novels – that of David Mitchell. Avenue of utopia, rock ‘n’ roll science fiction set amid the endless freedoms of the 1960s; Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, who draws heavily on the Fleetwood Mac story; The very famous Jennifer Egan A visit to the Goon squad; Alan Warner’s latest, Kitchen 434.
Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev is now available. Image: Supplied
Dawnie Walton’s The Final Revival of Opal and Nev easily takes a spot on this list. It’s the story of Opal Jewel, who explodes onto the New York scene in the 1970s with a howl of Afro-punk rage, and Neville Charles, a talented but clumsy young British songwriter who becomes his partner. The events that saw the couple reach the threshold of stardom before their careers derailed due to social and racial strife are recounted in retrospect, through a series of interviews with S Sunny Curtis, a young magazine editor whose late father drummed on their records.
Support The Big Issue and our suppliers by take out a subscription.
These days, Opal is a recluse while Nev has become a Phil Collins-style solo star. The couple are silent, and their long-standing separation is shrouded in mystery. It’s something to do with a murder that happened on their last gig. Curtis sets out to uncover the truth.
Opal has however not lost any of its advantage. “I understand what people are really trying to ask me is this,” she told Curtis. “How did such a dark and ugly woman come to believe that she could be someone?” Those around her at the height of her glory remember her differently, as something extraordinary, with a shaved head and dazzling conceptual outfits: “Like a page of Vogue the magazine comes to life ”; “It was like a vacation on Mars.”
Walton delivered a thoughtful page turner who locks into his rhythm early on and offers a timely exploration of both feminist agency and America’s seemingly intractable issue with race.
Opal and Nev’s final rebirth by Dawnie Walton is out now (Quercus, £ 14.99)