Review: The Ossians

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Connor Alexander’s baby is a band – The Ossians. A Scottish indie rock band that isn’t main stream enough to attract the great record labels but successful enough to be noticed by the local press, who are constantly asking for interviews.

Starring his sister, his girlfriend and his best friend, Connor decides that it is time to increase The Ossian’s fame by touring the north of Scotland, and find out what their home country is really all about. Figuring that none of the members of The Ossians had ever been further north than Aberdeen, they embark on a journey that does not primarily aim at recruiting a larger audience, but to define their identity as a band and as individuals.

Leaving Edinburgh, the journey takes them to St Andrews, Arbroath, Kyle of Lochalsh, Fort William, and eventually back to the civilized world, to Glasgow. So, what is Scotland? A picturesque tourist attraction, weather beaten beaches, caves and maritime wildlife? Or a dreary industrial country, with no chance of ever being truly independent? Maybe a bit of both, maybe a bit of everything.

Johnstone cleverly interlinks the fate of the band with the different mood of the places in Scotland where they play, and the people they meet. The book effortlessly slips in and out of characters’ perspectives, and we realize that Johnstone’s characters are as diverse as their country. Connor, who is unwillingly bullied into being a drug courier; his best friend and his sister who are suddenly discovering that they feel more than just friendship for each other; and his girlfriend, who desperately tries not to loose her job as a teacher despite a runaway student of hers suddenly showing up at their gigs.

The warning on the cover is not in vain: this book certainly contains Sex, Drugs, and Rock’n’Roll. But the most dangerous thing about it is surely that it is addictive to the point that you’ll find yourself hectically checking your watch to make sure you’re not late for this evening’s soundcheck.

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