The Thrill of it All is the 2014 novel by Joseph O’Connor about the rise and fall of a fictional rock band in the 80s. Off the top, let me say that I have read a number of Mr. O’Connor’s books. I’ve liked all of them, and some of them – especially The Salesman and The Star of the Sea are favourites.
I should also say that I mostly turned away from listening to pop music in the 80s, at a time when many of my friends identified very much with all kinds of performers. When people talk about bands from that time, more often than not the best I can muster is a blank stare. Maybe if I loved 80s pop bands, I would be able to hear the music of the fictional band, The Ships, in my head. As it is I can’t quite do it. I imagine they sound somewhere in a spectrum between The Waterboys (a band I enjoyed) and U2 (a band that I don’t have much time for) and I don’t know maybe David Bowie – but I just don’t feel the groove.
On the other hand the book is about a group of friends who form a band and so it’s all about family and friendships and how those friends deal with the twists and turns life deals as well as their own weaknesses and talents. If I didn’t identify with the music, I did believe the characters. I alo enjoyed the way Mr. O’Connor structured the novel – the guitarist, Robbie, is writing a memoir, and so all sorts of scraps of information are included including commentary from other members of the band. Robbie’s narrative is not entirely reliable, and we get to figure that out along the way.
Family is treated in other ways as well, and the family situations of the band-members at least in part drive their behaviour. We meet Robbie’s parents, and learn about his relationship in particular with his father Jimmy. We also learn that the lead singer of The Ships, the outlandish Vietnamese-born Fran Mulvey, had a dreadful childhood, orphaned, shipped to England and raised by foster parents.
The Thrill of it All is engaging, very readable, very funny in parts, and touching in others, particularly towards the end. I don’t think it is on par with Joseph O’Connor’s greatest books, but still I liked it very much and can recommend it as an excellent read.