REVIEW: Compulsion by Kate Scott

In brief: Lucy’s life is hedonistic to say the least. She blows it all up to retreat to a small seaside town, but a lot of ways follow her. Can quiet Robin be the change she needs?

The good: Lots of great music referenced.

The not-so-good: A bit repetitive – party, music, sex, drugs, repeat.

Why I chose it: I like Noughties music. Thanks to Penguin for the copy.

Year: 2023

Pages: 279

Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin)

Setting: A city and a small town

Rating: 6.5 out of 10

Compulsion by Kate Scott is a rather unique read. It combines debauchery (drugs, a lot of drugs; drinking and sex) with quieter internal struggles. The pace varies from frantic to slow and to be frank, some words I didn’t understand and some parts I didn’t really ‘get’. While there is reference to a lot of music, silly old me thought it would be mainly contemporary for the 2000s setting but it’s firmly set in the 1980s.

The story jumps right in to the wild life of Lucy, music magazine editor, recent divorcee and not so proud owner of a stalker. She’s in with every band in town (hell, she even named some of them) and nights are wild with music, alcohol and drugs. One long night starts with a band and ends three days later after she kicks Julian, a known enigma in that world, out of her bed. It’s time to give it all up and seek rest and solace in her grandfather’s house in a small coastal town. But really, the party just moves to another location. People come down from the city and Robin is pulled into Lucy’s life. Robin is a dreamer without direction, and it’s pretty easy to continue that way while there are drugs to be taken and music to listen to. A fair chunk of the book is taken up by taking drugs of all sorts and discussion of music. The last section slows everything down as Lucy and Robin grow older and occasionally wiser.

I found the first section confusing, as though I’d walked into a movie partway through. So much is happening and the reader is not so much introduced to the characters but expected to jump in the way they all do. It starts to make some more sense as the story moves out of the city but it wasn’t really until the last 50 pages that I felt comfortable in knowing the characters. The majority of them weren’t particularly likeable for me – Robin is a dreamer who is all too easily led and Lucy is impossible to follow what she will do next (let alone why she does it). A lot of time they are under the influence of drugs so their character was acting unusually anyway. (Also, I’m not sure where they got the money from for the booze, drugs and fancy cheeses and other food). The story drifts from party to comedown, then repeat for a lot of the novel. The last part where Lucy and Robin try to make an ordinary go of it (jobs, apartment etc) was the easiest to read, but after the previous hedonism, kind of dull.

I did like the music references, although my 1980s music knowledge is not all that strong. I appreciated the references to contemporary music more, such as LCD Soundsystem and The Killers. (Although, on page 92, one of Lucy’s writers tells her to put The Killers on the cover of the magazine. It was August 2003 – Mr Brightside, their debut single, wasn’t released until September 2003. It didn’t do well until it was re-released in 2004, and the rest is history. Clearly, Jake the writer was a man with an incredible talent to spot great music). I do wonder why Lucy and her mates eschewed music like The Strokes, The White Stripes, Franz Ferdinand and Muse in preference for older works. (Lucy does seem to have a deep love of the 80s though).

Overall, I didn’t really warm to the story or the characters – it all felt a bit messy to me.

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