REVIEW: Music Love Drugs War by Geraldine Quigley

In brief: The story of a group of friends in Northern Ireland in 1981 – this is not your average coming of age tale.

The good: Combines the usual growing up tale with the Troubles – it all hits harder.

The not-so-good: Hard to keep track of the characters.

Why I chose it: Sounded interesting.

Year: 2019

Pages: 276

Publisher: Penguin

Setting: Derry, Northern Ireland

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Music Love Drugs War is set in 1980s Northern Ireland, and combines the usual tribulations of boyfriends and leaving school with the Troubles of that time. In between drinking and drugs, there’s IRA activity that affects the whole friendship group. While the story is interesting, I found it difficult to distinguish between the characters at times and the epilogue confused me.

A group of friends get together in Derry for drinking, drugs and fun. Some are still at school, others are older and seem to be on the dole. They are bored and also curious about the war raging around them in Derry. It’s not uncommon to walk into a riot or see cars or shops burning. (In fact, some of the characters see a group trying to set a shop on fire – again – and just note that they aren’t doing it in a way where the fire is going to take off). For Paddy and Christy, throwing a few rocks is a bit of fun. But it all ends badly when Orla’s boyfriend dies in a riot and makes the characters question what they are doing with their lives. This is where the focus on the girls (Liz, Orla and Sinead) drops off and moves to Paddy and Christy, who decide to join the IRA. For Liz’s boyfriend Kevin, that’s not something he wants to go back to. It creates friction between the friends and their families as Paddy and Christy start getting in trouble, but run to Kevin for help. Who will make a new future for themselves?

I found it quite difficult to distinguish between the characters, particularly for the first half of the book. I couldn’t remember who was going out with who and Orla and Sinead didn’t really have a distinguishing feature between them. It’s really only when the focus moves on to the IRA that it becomes easier to tell Paddy, Christy and Kevin apart. This is to the detriment of the female characters who take a back seat for most of the second half (and poor Orla and Sinead don’t really get another look in). And what happened to Noel, the only one of the group with their own flat? He seemed to disappear too.

The second half of the novel has more action than the first and was paced much more evenly. It was easier to read too as the point of view of the characters didn’t jump around as much. The epilogue section was just confusing to me – it didn’t really serve a lot of purpose and seemed to raise more questions than it answered. I think the storyline is great, showing the boredom of the youth and the desperation of their parents to keep their children out of trouble while war rages. However, the confusion between characters and the slow start made it harder to want to pick up and keep reading.

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