The Final Revival of Opal and Nev – Dawnie Walton
Opal and Nev are the most unlikely of partners who could not be more different. With such a range of personalities, image, background, culture, race and behaviours, they provide such a fascinating contrast in an industry that is always seeking the new outrageous star. The development of their journey from their family background to music industry fame is fascinating, and it does require a double-take to realise that this is a purely fictional story. Delivered in an epistolary format, the structure works brilliantly in delivering a documentary-style narrative where the sense of information flowing from the most appropriate observer keeps us enthralled.
Neville Charles (Nev) is a very creative songwriter musician from England and manages to impress New York City based, Rivington Records, to sign him and work to promote his unique musical style. While the record label backs him they also feel there is something missing and they embark on a quest to find the missing piece – a perfect duo fit for Nev. One night in Detroit they hear Opal Jewel and her sister Pearl, sing in a bar and Nev knows instantly that Opal is the one. While not as beautiful as her sister or as good a singer as her sister, Opal has that, je ne sais quoi, that enigmatic something that is riveting, and Nev knows he has found his partner. Nev is white, ginger-haired and very reserved, Opal is black, bald, and fiercely flamboyant – yet they work.
Dawnie Walton shows great craft in building her characters, especially considering the format of the novel. Opal and Nev are fascinating characters, well developed and intriguing. We can feel a strong belief they have in themselves but also their uncertainty and the precarious nature of the industry. The introduction of the rock and roll lifestyle also has its impact, particularly on Opal who isn’t one to hold back. A defining moment happens when the band’s black drummer Jimmy Curtis is killed in a racially motivated attack at a concert and brings to an end the band.
With the talk that Opal and Nev are planning a reunion concert forty years later, the newly appointed editor of Aural Magazine, S. Sunny Shelton/Curtis, wants to cover their story. In a juicy twist, Sunny is the daughter of Jimmy Curtis, a father she never met but who was having an affair with Opal at the time of his death. With Sunny as the novel’s facilitator, this is essentially a story within a story and her editor’s notes add a great element to the book.
Amongst other things, this is a powerful story about racism and sexism, and a contemporary look at the societal injustices that glaringly pervade our lives. Walton has written a very intelligent story at various levels, from an entertaining glimpse of rock and roll that excites many fans, to an acute social commentary on the challenges facing our world today. There are often disconnect issues with the episodic style and I felt that happened here which also slowed the story at times, but that said, this is a wonderful read and hugely impressive as a debut novel.
I would recommend this book and I have Michael David to thank for pointing me in the right direction. I would also like to thank Simon & Schuster and NetGalley for providing me with a free ARC copy in return for an honest review.