BOOK REVIEW: The Forensic Record Society by Magnus Mills

‘The Forensic Record Society’ is written by the award winning, Booker and Goldsmiths Prize-shortlisted author Magnus Mills. With a surreal exploration into the world of records that is as hilarious as it is enlightening and yet told in the fantastic style that Magnus Mills fans will recognise from the get go. Mills opens the lid on the secretive and somewhat fanatical world of vinyl record collectors in a fresh and engaging way, with many a laugh, cry and exclamation of his brilliance at bringing his characters to life in all their quirky, geeky goodness.

So, as we all know there has been a surge in vinyl records since the turn on 2014 with its height in popularity exploding in 2016/17 with some artists choosing to release their records in the outdated but somewhat unbeatable format of the record (think what David Bowie did with Black Star). Everyone has chosen to embrace this outdated art form and because of that the sales in vinyl has skyrocketed with everyone raiding their parent’s lofts, charity shops and online to see if they can pick up a vintage LP of the Beatles, David Bowie, Rolling Stones or Black Sabbath. I must say I have personally loved the renaissance of the vinyl record. I benefited from this craze, fad, whatever you will call it by having parents that had a brilliant and eclectic taste in music – and who never threw any of it away just stored it in the loft, it may have been my inheritance but I guess as they keep telling me ‘You can’t take it with you’ so I’ve been enjoying it.

Mills has his finger firmly on the pulse of popular culture with this release and I think that the book will find its audience within those who are currently enjoying this surge in its popularity. Mills humor and exposé on the intricacies of the vinyl world show his eye for detail and I think the ardent fanatic would even find the time to have a laugh at themselves, and find themselves mirrored in Mills main protagonists James, Dave, Peter, Kevin and Mike to name a few. The book is not the best-written book I have ever read, I don’t think it is going to be winning any awards, but it is damn fun and I really enjoyed it!

When I began reading I couldn’t help but make some connections with the novel ‘Fight Club’ by Chuck Palahniuk; two men with a passion for a particular subject in Mills book it’s vinyl records – in Palahniuk’s its fighting. Set up a society for the appreciation of their art by picking apart their beloved art form, honing the listening experience – The first rule of The Forensic Record Society is you don’t speak about The Forensic Record Society! They also set up the club in their local pub, The Half Moon where many others join their cause as news of their society reaches other fanatics who want to join their club; somewhat mirroring the Fight Club route – there are more similarities I’ll touch on later.

‘We could form a society for the express purpose of listening to records closely and in detail, forensically if you like, without any interruptions or distraction. There would be regular gatherings, and membership would depend on some kind of test to make sure people are genuinely interested.’

‘You mean a code of conduct?’

‘Certainly,’ said James. ‘We don’t want any charlatans.’

He stirred the tea while I considered his idea.

‘Where will we hold these meetings?’ I enquired. ‘Up the pub?’

‘Good thinking,’ James replied. ‘Actually I hadn’t planned that far ahead, but now you come to mention it they’ve got a back room they don’t use, haven’t they? We could borrow that.’

James had a sparkle in his eyes which he usually reserved for only his best records, and I had to admit the feeling was infectious. Was it really possible, I wondered, to connect with others like ourselves?’

With the clubs notoriety, counter groups soon set up sticks, and tensions are heightened within The Forensic Record Society and their core group of followers. I loved that Mills drops in here observations made about modern society; the consumer culture that we have that if we don’t like something then well we’ll just set up our own thing and call it something different (but with it pretty much being the same). Shop somewhere else where we can get what we want – and that’s what I love about Mills comedic writing in his previous work but especially in this novel, the other factions have only set themselves up in The Half Moon on other nights, which I can only say severely peeves off our Forensic Record Society!

‘Towards the end of the week I received an item of mail in the post. Inside the envelope was a leaflet:

Confessional Records Society

Meets Every Tuesday

9PM

Half Moon

Bring A Record Of Your Choice And Confess!

As I read the words I felt a cold chill running through me. This threatened to undermine all that James and I had achieved, and I wondered who could have been behind it. There was no covering letter or return address; nor did I recognize the handwriting on the envelope. Yet the term ‘Confessional’ sounded vaguely familiar, and I spent a while sifting through my memory trying to locate it. Eventually, though, I gave up and went round to see James instead. It transpired that he’d received an identical leaflet.

‘Nothing to be concerned about,’ he remarked. ‘Plainly a total fraud.’

‘You mean it’s a joke?’ I enquired.

‘Oh no,’ he said. ‘I think they’re quite sincere, but these meetings are run by deluded individuals who attract similarly deluded newcomers.’

I also thought that the introduction of Alice reminded me a lot of the character Marla Singer from Fight Club – there I am again talking about Fight Club, but the similarities are uncanny. If you swapped the rehab clinics and cancer support groups for a group of music loving likeminded people you’d have Alice – but I am sure they’d think she was a cancer to their recently formed club; turning up to throw major spanners in the works and cruelly effecting the group dynamics. But I felt the novel needed this female input – Mills books focus on ordinary lives and the quirkiness behind their exteriors; people who you meet day-in-day-out and with a heavy cast of male characters I really enjoyed the introduction of Alice and all that she brings to the book!

I loved this book for a few reasons Mills has a true gift at writing about the ordinary but in doing so his words transform the ordinary into something special; like a car crash, you don’t want to watch but can’t help but be drawn in. Mills prose, characters and evidently his story are arresting at times.

I enjoyed this book because I am a music fan; and I think that within the fandom of music this book will find its home, Mills showcases his brilliant descriptive and observatory power within ‘The Forensic Records Society’ which at times I found to be right on the money satirizing a whole collective of people and their fanaticism – if we are all honest we each know someone that would fit right in at this club! The book’s also a slim one; I read it within a couple of sittings – making it ideal for a gift, ideal for someone who loves music and ideal for Record Store Day 2017.

I should also take the opportunity to mention the fabulous jacket design for the book – David Mann has done a tremendous job on the book; so much so that when I received my copy I thought it contained an actual vinyl record. The embellishments to the cover help in my opinion make the book striking and I’m sure will no doubt raise interest and help bring this book to the attention of the music fan in all of us.

Should you judge a book by its cover – with ‘The Forensic Records Society’ you should!

‘Hours later I woke up alone in a strange bed. I had no idea where I was, but in the next room I could hear music.’

Magnus Mills

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Magnus Mills is the author of The Field of the Cloth of Gold and eight other novels, including The Restraint of Beasts, which won the McKitterick Prize and was shortlisted for both the Booker Prize and the Whitbread (now the Costa) First Novel Award in 1999. His most recent novel, The Field of the Cloth of Gold was published to great critical acclaim and was shortlisted for the Goldsmiths Prize 2015. His books have been translated into twenty languages. He lives in London.

The Forensic Record Society was published by Bloomsbury Publishing on 6th April 2017.

You can purchase a copy of The Forensic Record Society from FoylesWaterstones and The Book Depository:

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To discover more about Bloomsbury Publishing click here

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Author Photo by Steve Hogben

Review by Ross Jeffery

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