I finally finished this sucker and I have to admit, at least for me, the last third was the most compelling for me. It seemed to me to be a really great novel about The Face, a Mod icon, interspersed with a very flawed, well let’s just say weak, novel about the futuristic Paul researching the Mod era.
The science fictiony thing just didn’t work and Reed’s prose about a near dystopian future just did not have the emotional punch it needed to carry the Paul plotline. On the other hand, the prose in The Face portions of the book, the ones set primarily in the 1960’s, was marvellous and you could really feel the energy and liveliness of someone who had lived in that era and place writing.
This plotline, I mean The Face one, was quite poignant and moving in the end and said as much as a novel much better known, The Sense of an Ending. It gave a real sense of having to leave our youth behind and of time passing, even for The Face. It also said a great deal about how truly revolutionary art (music, fashion, design, etc.) gets assimilated by our culture and becomes part of the accepted mainstream forms of entertainment and style. What we are left with is nostalgia, parody, imitation, and pastiche, not originality. That’s not to say some of what comes later isn’t good and fun as entertainment, but it will never have the impact or verve of the first time around. It is always driving while looking in the rear view mirror too often.
Reed’s grasp of the excitement of the Mod and British Invasion era is palpable and his use of metaphor exquisite. His perception of Mod style as the beginning of later, more visible, gay style and culture, are probably right on since most of the Glam Rockers of the 70’s got their inspiration from the Mod era in England in the 60’s. And on and on these things go.
In the end I felt like a really exciting and literary novel about the Swinging Sixties era and its evolution and devolution, through the eyes of the one iconic character, was marred by the bolting on of the whole sci-fi dystopian world parts of the narrative in order for the whole thing to make a more “believable” whole.