This is the story of Ella.
And of all the things they should have said, but never did.
‘What have you been up to?’
I shrug, ‘Just existing, I guess.’
‘Looks like more than just existing.’
Robert gestures at the baby, the lifeboat, the ocean.
‘All right, not existing. Surviving.’
He laughs, not unkindly. ‘Sounds grim.’
‘It wasn’t so bad, really. But I wish you’d been there.’
Ella has known Robert all her life. Through seven key moments and seven key people their journey intertwines.
From the streets of Glasgow during WW2 to the sex, drugs and rock n’ roll of London in the 60s and beyond, this is a story of love and near misses. Of those who come in to our lives and leave it too soon. And of those who stay with you forever…
I adored When The Music Stops, it was exactly what I needed to recuperate after an operation. The characters were the highlight, Ella the shining star, from the little girl who had to deal with grief, the aftermath of war to the grandma who looked back on her life and the people she met along the way.
And what an unusual setting Heap chose for eighty seven year old Ella’s journey back in time, a last holiday, a boat on stormy sea’s, a baby to keep safe and most importantly to love.
It was that love for the baby that took Ella back to pre war Glasgow to her best friend Rene, and Rene’s brother Robert, the one constant in Ella’s life. Their shared love of music bound them together, yet you knew there was more, an unsaid love that never quite emerged. Heap dangled the will they or they won’t they before us, but instead Heap kept them apart, as other loves, and people stepped in the way. We read as Ella, swayed between jobs, between bank, post office before London beckoned and she found herself tangled in its musical backstreets, in the underground cafes and the wonderfully colourful people that came along with it.
I loved how Heap managed to capture the feel of the era, of the smoky venues, of the hedonist lifestyle Ella found herself wrapped up in before the wheels fell of and Heap lept forward to a very different Ella and a very different job and finally up to the present. Each leap was almost like another reinvention of Ella, of maturity, of making do, of a fleeting reconnection with Robert, of wondering if this could finally be the time that they would be together. I think this is what kept me furiously turning the pages, that need and want for them to have that happy ending.
In between the memories we were taken forward to the present to Ella on the boat, to the water that swished throughout, to the baby who somehow energised Ella to steer the boat to dry land and safety. Each look back brought a new person to the present, until Ella had her own crew, a crew that helped her steer the boat, that reminisced alongside her, that uncovered her all abiding love of music and its power to heal.
In the hands of many authors this may have felt clunky, out of place, too far fetched, but for me it was the right thing for Heap to have done. It was ethereal, emotional, and the latter parts had me in absolute bits, but in a good way, in that you knew Ella had found some sort of closure and peace with those she had shared her life with and most importantly herself.
I would like to thank Harper Fiction for a copy of When The Music Stopped to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Things Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Joe Heap was born in Bradford in 1986, the son of two teachers. In 2004, he won the Foyle Young Poet award, and his poetry has been published in several pamphlets. He studied for a BA in English Literature at Stirling University and a Masters in Creative Writing at Glasgow University. Joe lives in London with his long-suffering girlfriend, short-suffering baby, and much-aggrieved cat. The Rules of Seeing is his first novel.