I grew into The Last Days of Disco the further I read. At first the setting and especially the language presented a barrier but by the end it was simply a part of these characters that I had grown to care about. David Ross draws you into the lives of the Cassidy family and their neighbours, you share their triumphs and defeats, so that whilst in some ways nothing much happens in others everything matters.
This is a social commentary about a time when the young were by turns labelled useless wasters and national heroes, unemployment statistics one day, intrepid explorers sent to kill for their flag the next. Yet it is also the simple story of a group of people doing what we all do, trying to make the best of the hand they have been dealt, however bum the deal, and by fair means or foul.
The main thrust comes from Bobby and his mate Joey who decide to set up a mobile disco. This dream brings them inadvertently into competition with the local gangster and japes ensue, comic and otherwise. As the teenagers strive to make a success of their fledgling business other lives around them are falling apart, sending ripples into every corner of their community.
Each of the characters rolls with the punches, trying to make some headway and escape whatever shackles have been placed on them, but they do it with a humour and hope that binds the reader to them. The laughs come thick and fast but so does the heartbreak. There are genuinely laugh out loud on the bus moments alongside deeply moving scenes, whether it’s Bobby reaching out to a disgraced performer with an empathy that belies his years, his older brother facing up to the brutal realities of war, his sister retreating into the sanctuary of herself or the gangster’s muscle trying to find a way to honour the love he has lost.
This is David Ross’s first novel but he demonstrates a gift for expressing life that surely has more to give. There is a real empathy for people of all kinds in the pages, there are “good” people doing bad things and “bad” people doing good things, because people are not good or bad they are just people dealing with what is in front of them, imperfectly. This book is worth reading for that truth alone, but it also takes you on an emotional journey that reminds you what it is to be human, a fabulous debut.
The Last Days of Disco is available as e-book now and will be published in paperback on 15 March 2015.