Compression is the debut novel from Tim Cundle, a man whose name might not ring many bells, but he is a veteran of the 70s Punk Rock scene, having been there obsessing over obscure bands from the very beginning.
As noted, this tale is short and sharp like a decent Punk tune and focuses on the psychological personal problems faced by Michael Flanagan, a punk rock musician who returns to his dismal hometown to put a decade-old issue to rest.
Set in the late 90s, Flanagan recalls how he and his group of friends witnessed, aided and abetted in the death of a homeless man in their seaside town. The said incident showed the true colours of Flanagan’s best friend and bandmate Elliot, who caused the incident that has damaged Flanagan throughout his career.
Taking place over a weekend, where Flanagan and Elliot visit their old high school for a reunion, Cundle tells of how Flanagan has faced the ups and downs, success and embarrassment of working in the music industry and the countless challenges to the punk ethos brought by financial success.
The protagonist is plagued by memories of the incident that tore his friends apart and the tale follows how, through some odd twists of fate, Flanagan atones himself and brings the true culprit of the crime to justice.
Secondary storylines talk about what happened to his friends who have found fortune or hardship – one of whom has joined the police, the direct enemy of all things punk, yet offers Flanagan some of the best advice to overcome and deal with all things he has compressed over his years in music.
There are plenty of references to performance art, pornography, drug addiction and hardcore sexual acts to keep anyone who enjoys the works of Irvine Welsh or Brett Easton Ellis happy. A fair number of jokes and innuendos populate the dialogue too, which offers decent comic relief and makes you feel at home if you’re old enough to remember the slang of the late 90s.
Cundle’s prose is simple and reads with all the clarity of a hardboiled crime thriller, or an 80s transgressive tale about angry, wayward youth. It is simple to read and can be done in one sitting and its charm is how many psychological and philosophical thoughts and reflections spring from Flanagan’s psyche as he looks back on his life in a dreary seaside town.
If you’re also curious about how success for a punk musician can bring more than a fair share of mental and physical problems, then Cundle has got you covered. Check out Compression if you like stories of redemption, crime and the everyday woes of a career that appears glamorous to the common bystander but hides more than enough difficulties.