"Compression" Book Review
Written by Tony Jones
Published by Earth Island Books
Written by Tim Cundle
2019, 130 pages, Fiction
Released on 19th September 2019
For those who escaped the dreary small town of your childhood only to return years later and discover nothing has changed, then Compression will surely resonate with you. I grew up in a dreary coastal town in the north of Scotland and upon my occasional journey north find the place to be full of ghosts, derelict pubs, unemployment, and the occasional familiar face who does not realise I left for pastures new over thirty years ago. This novel, with an authentic punk-rock vibe vibrating in the background, is set in a similar seaside town where the locals who have any imagination dream of breaking free, never to return.
In his youth, the author, Tim Cundle, was a member of a couple of punk bands and brings a convincing musical angle to this short 130-page novel, and is editor of Mass Movement Magazine and contributor to other publications. Although music might play a significant part in Cundle’s background, it does not dominate the plot of Compression, which is predominately set in 1998. The action unfolds over a brief 24-hour period, but features crucial flashbacks to when the main characters were teenagers, ten years earlier.
Compression is not strictly a horror novel and should be read as a dark character study influenced by guilt, with dramatic elements built around a shocking I Know What You Did Last Summer split-second moment of violence. Mike Flanagan, a moderately successful punk-rock star, returns to his hometown for a school reunion and meets up with his old buddies and relives this crucial and painful moment from their teenage years. The flashback moments which takes place at the local beach is one of the most powerful in the book and it is easy to see why it haunts Mike Flanagan, both when awake and in his dreams.
As the story develops, we realise this incident also affected the other protagonists in varying ways and as a result the story is top-heavy with severely damaged characters, including a cop, an ex-mental hospital patient and adult film performer. The story is built around the anticipation of the reunion and Mike being reunited with his ex-best friend, who was also his tormentor and the cause of all their problems that day back on the beach. Cundle weaves a tale soaked in guilt, self-loathing and regret, which is finely balanced with dark humour throughout the story.
I happened to read the physical copy of Compression and found the font-size to be way too small, to the extent that it detracted from my enjoyment of it, so I would suggest the Kindle version should you not want to read miniscule and highly condensed print. Also, I struggled with the writing style, which is also slightly heavy going, lacking flow, clunky and had to pause to read some sections more than once to pick up the meaning. The knowing musical references are very entertaining but your personal take on the novel may depend on whether you take to Mike Flanagan; he might have been of my generation, but I failed to connect with him, finding him tedious and unlikable. However, like Flanagan or not, Compression does ask interesting questions on whether punk musicians are truly stars, and astutely avoids musical clichés, which can be very easy to fall into.
Compression covers a lot of ground in a brief 130 pages; from the loss of innocence to confronting the demons of the past, through its realistic portrayal of difficult teenage years where bullying is taken for granted and victims are easy targets. The result is a thoughtful and moody piece of fiction, beating with a savage punk-rock heart, but is let down by a style of writing which I found to be rather dense.
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