The title of this book is wonderfully appropriate, both in its suggestion of the book’s noir genre and in its reflection of the incredible monochromatic atmosphere Joel Lane conjures up.
Because there is almost no colour in his narrative. Everything described is either black, white or in endless shades of gray, with only the occasional explosion of vivid colour (a pink sunset, a blaze of orange fire) to break the monotony. But this isn’t a criticism, since the device captures the mood of the novel to perfection. Its prose may be colour-less but it’s never colourless.
The main character, David, himself lives a colourless life, playing bass in a band and drifting through the suburbs and bars of Birmingham, footloose but hardly fancy-free. Until he meets Karl, the tortured genius lead-singer, and falls in love. Karl brings colour to David’s life, but it’s colour of a strange, dark sort, all dark tones and heavy shadows. Because Karl is a manic depressive and a burgeoning alcoholic, and in trying to destroy himself he begins to take David down with him.
The ensuing relationship between the two men, told in the context of the rise and fall of an eighties indie rock band, is an emotional roller-coaster and the book packs a powerful punch, so much so that I was emotionally black and blue by the end. Happily-ever-after this book emphatically ain’t.
Every nuance of language is masterly. The pared down narrative flows from the dingy back streets of Birmingham to the dingier backstages and bars of a rock tour via the dark, even nightmarish landscapes of a depressive’s mind. The descriptions are vivid and sometimes shocking, the action tense, and there is an eerie, ghostlike quality to some of the scenes.
‘From Blue to Black’ is not a book to cosy up with. It lacks any kind of a happy ending, its characters are sometimes aggravating, sometimes downright unlikeable and the downward spiral of destruction is relentless. And yet, I thoroughly enjoyed the read. Yes, I was exhausted by the time I’d finished it, but I felt that I’d read something worthwhile, something different from the endless array of bright romances and glitzy thrillers that fill the bookshop shelves. Black and blue it might be, but it’s also extremely good.
This article first appeared in Forbidden Fruit.