Tuesday, 7 April 2020

'Another Planet' - Tracey Thorn

During these strange times of isolation, social distancing and almost-lockdown in the face of the coronavirus pandemic, like many people I am seeking comfort in books. So whether anyone wants it or not, I will be writing here about the books I've been reading.



In a different vein to my previous two suggestions for Lockdown Literature which were both older novels, book three is a contemporary memoir by musician Tracey Thorn. Perhaps best known as half of Everything But The Girl, she is also an acclaimed writer and her first memoir Bedsit Disco Queen is a real treat. It is a thoroughly enjoyable trip through the world of *real* independent music in the 1980s and Tracey's narrative voice gives the book a wonderful presence. Check it out. 

Anyway, Another Planet focuses on being a teenager in suburbia, specifically Brookmans Park on the outer edges of London during the 1970s. Being a teenager is never easy, especially when you feel you are on the edge of something and somewhere. I grew up in a tiny village in rural Somerset, so share Tracey's frustrations at feeling bored and ignored. It's something I've given a lot of thought to over recent years because, like Tracey, I have also revisited my teenage diaries (except mine are from the early 1990s) for a writing project. So it was especially interesting to read Another Planet and see Tracey's tackle all this from a different decade and a different geographic area.

Another Planet is a fascinating potted biography of a suburb. Even if you don't know Brookmans Park, you know plenty of places just like it. Identikit commuter dwellings that popped up at the end of the war and were places for those who worked in London to live without enduring the big city prices. Of course, the implication here is that the residents were the worker bees, the ones without the big pay cheques. In other words: know your place. 

Brookmans Park has one of everything: one school, one pub, one playground and so on. Which means it is deathly dull for a teenager. But as Tracey explores by revisiting her diaries, is being a teenager ever anything other than boring? Her diaries are more significant for what she does not do than for what she does do. Her entries are catalogues of trips to towns and garments she did not buy, and events she did not go to... but the omissions also speak loudly about aspirations. 

In Tracey's case, she escaped suburbia, went to university and was part of a successful duo with her partner Ben Watt. The flip side of that coin is what her life might have been had she not escaped. If she had remained in suburbia - as so many of her friends might have - what would she then have done?

Another Planet is an evocative exploration into the world of suburbia. And if you're looking for an escape from these isolated times of pandemic anxiety, then why not climb into these pages and slip back a few decades to a charmingly uncomplicated time before the internet, before mobile technology and before, for Tracey, fame. 

PS - Although I have a hardback copy featured in the photo, Another Planet is now out in paperback so you can save yourself a few pounds by splashing out on that one. And please do support an independent bookseller if you get a copy. 


Now, more than ever, it is so important to support your local, independent retailers to help ensure they are still here for us on the other side of this pandemic. So please consider ordering books direct via your local, independent bookshop rather than that very problematic online monolith. Thanks.

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