Book review: Nineteen Seventy-Nine

by Rhona Cameron

This isn't exactly one of those books you approach with feverish glee. There can be little more offputting than the diaries of a lovelorn teenager, stuck in a soulless Scottish town, feeling like they don't belong and that nobody understands their suffering. You can almost hear the sullen voice of Harry Enfield's teenage alter ego Kevin before you eveb get past the cover notes.

But thankfully Rhona Cameron's debut novel isn't the cocktail of whining self-pity and provincial misery that the premise suggests, instead being a lively, and sometimes funny account of her formative years in Musselburgh.

The autobiographical book is based on her diaries from 1979, but thankfully reinterpreted through the more cynical eyes of a worldly-wise thirtysomething, rejigged to give the story some sort of dramatic structure and with the names changed to protect the guilty.

She remains admirably honest about her feelings, and the picture that emerges is a warm and often humorous take on the tribulations everyone suffers as rampant hormones drag you kicking to adolescence.

Cameron's early struggles with her lesbianism are sometimes farcical, sometimes sad; while her coping with a dying father is obviously more downbeat, but even this has tender memories of the good times they had.

She writes with an easy, yet evocative style, perfectly recreating the cosy tedium of family holidays or the excitement of the school disco, and it's hard not to cast your mind back to your own teenage years as she relives some of her embarrassments, fantasies and ambitions.

The book gets slightly bogged down in the third quarter, as teenage life has the unfortunate habit of repeating itself, and the frequent slips into her mafioso daydreams do get a bit tiresome - but otherwise this is a fine read.

Cameron's made some odd career choices of late. Though perversely, the worse the project - I'm A Celebrity or the gameshow Russian Roulette - the more famous she becomes. Yet while this career path might be expected to lead to such schedule Polyfilla like I Love 1979, Cameron has taken a measured, intelligent and witty look at what the year really meant to her.

So perhaps this confident literary debut marks the discovery of her true calling away from the stand-up stage.

Steve Bennett
October 6, 2003

Published: 22 Sep 2006

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