The age of anxiety. Debut novel by Pete Townshend, a book review

The debut novel by Pete Townshend, one of the world’s greatest rock stars

The Age of Anxiety is a great rock novel, but that is one of the less important things about it. The narrator is a brilliant creation – cultured, witty and unreliable. The novel captures the craziness of the music business and displays Pete Townshend’s sly sense of humour and sharp ear for dialogue.

First conceived as an opera, The Age of Anxiety deals with mythic and operatic themes including a maze, divine madness and long-lost children. Hallucinations and soundscapes haunt this novel, which on one level is an extended meditation on manic genius and the dark art of creativity.

Duffy’s thoughts on The Age of Anxiety

Pete Townshend is part of the biggest rock band to ever grace this earth. The Who. If you are of a certain age, you will remember them well, but still today their rock anthems are used in advertisements and as the theme tune to one of my favourite crime shows, CSI.

Pete is what some may call a manic genius. He sold millions of records and held stadium concerts packed with thousands of people, he is also the mastermind behind Tommy and Quadrophenia. However, it all went south in 2003 when he was arrested and ultimately cleared of lurking in the dark corners of the internet where child exploitation and abuse is rife. Although Townshend stated that the reasoning for delving into these areas was research on his experiences as a child, which rang true for most, the dark stain has never really lifted, which he refers to in a Rolling Stone Magazine interview. This, along with the decades of being a world-famous rock star, responsible for some of the biggest rock hits ever made, there had to be some elements of Townshend life and certain characters who have surrounded him over the years to appear in his first novel.

Can an ageing rock star write a good novel?

There are strong parallels to celebrities, ex-wives and partners in The Age Of Anxiety and quite enjoyed trying to suss out who they were. It’s a part monologue with the main characters being tied together by Louis Doxtader, an art dealer and a man who cuts a rather lonely figure as the conduit for two manic geniuses along with a selection of strange and beguiling women who enter into his life.

There are strong themes of music, stardom, mental breakdowns, sex and drugs in The Age Of Anxiety, but don’t be fooled by the subject matter as Townshend writes with a sense of humour and the plot unwinds at an even pace without getting too bogged down in anything too heavy. Even the subject of rape, well, supposed rape is delivered in a very personal way, avoiding broad strokes and focusing squarely on one night and two people. If you are at a wedding and you are both completely off your head on drugs, is one, or both able to consent? What if you don’t even remember the evening? An interesting dialogue which I’m still pondering.

Yes, it’s a little self indulgent at times, but I think we can cut Pete some slack there. If I was the composer of two popular rock operas, and sold over 100 million records worldwide, I would probably be a little self indulgent too!

The Age Of Anxiety By Pete Townshend. The Who. Book Review. Quadrophenia, Tommy.
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