The music business is a tough nut to crack; but nobody seems to have told the modestly talented Glaswegian singer-songwriter Rab Dillon.
Fresh out of school, he writes a batch of contrived protest songs and accepts an offer by a small London label to release them on CD. By the time the book opens he's already regretting his youthful haste, sleeping rough in Brighton without a penny, or a record deal, to his name.
Bell's second novel is set a couple of years in the past, with Occupy protests making the headlines while reality TV pumps out the message that all it takes to succeed is self-belief, determination and some product that will fill an existing niche.
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The chapters are split into three alternating timelines - Glasgow, London and Brighton - so it's giving nothing away to reveal that Rab's bid for stardom fails. But it's the way he fails that matters. A self-centred 19-year-old realising he's driven away his first serious girlfriend is a slender premise to build a novel on, although large parts of the book are actually about that.
What Rab really has such trouble coming to terms with is that he's a phoney.
A key scene occurs when Rab, who wrote his first protest songs by researching politically contentious issues on the internet, goes to the Occupy camp at St Paul's, convinced that he just needs to soak up the atmosphere to legitimise his claim to speak on behalf of the disenfranchised. The protesters, recognising he's there to exploit them for his career, recoil.
And yet, in the course of the novel, Rab seems to do little more than trade one delusion for another. From fooling himself that he can be the spokesman for a generation by Googling statistics on higher education, he succumbs to the romantic myth of the suffering artist, coming to believe that having a flop CD and being homeless for a bit has made him a proper songwriter, with the authenticity he previously lacked. That niggle aside, Bell continues the winning streak he started with 2012's So It Is, with fine depictions of characters and locations, especially Rab's homeless companion Sage and the grimier parts of Brighton.