‘I’m a Londoner now. I’m a voice in the noise. I’m ready.’
– The Mess We’re In
[ About The Mess We’re In ]
It’s the turn of the millennium and, landing in London with nothing but her CD collection and demo tape, Orla Quinn moves into a squalid Kilburn house with her best mate and a band called Shiva.
Orla wants to make music, but juggling two jobs and partying every night isn’t helping. Back in Ireland her parents’ marriage has crumbled, she’s not speaking to her father, and her mother and sister are drinking too much.
While Orla’s own dreams seem to be going nowhere, Shiva are on the brink of something big. But as the hype around the band intensifies, so does the hedonism, and relationships in the house are growing strained.
This is the story of a young woman thrashing through life, trying to find home in a strange new place. It’s also a story about music: how it can break you down and build you back up again, and how to find your rhythm when all you hear is noise.
[ My Review ]
The Mess We’re In by Annie Macmanus published May 11th with Wildfire and is described by Sara Cox as ‘beautifully painted, well set up and realistic’.
Set in Kilburn, The Mess We’re In is the story of a young Irish woman, Orla Quinn, as she embarks on her London odyssey with hope and expectation. Orla moves into a room in a house-share with her friend Neema and Neema’s brother, who is part of a band called Shiva. All the other band-mates live in the house also. Neema is a law student with a clear career path ahead of her, with Orla’s sights set on the music industry. Orla writes music, plays guitar and has studied music production. She understands the music but she has no direct experience of the music industry. Living with a band has possibilities for Orla but she needs to bide her time and put in some hard and dirty work.
She picks up a job in an Irish bar, where she witnesses first hand the different generations of Irish who left their homes never to return. There is a melancholic atmosphere running through these scenes, a lingering sadness for unfulfilled dreams and paths never explored. The characters are all beautifully depicted with an authenticity that really adds depth to the story.
Orla lives a wild life. It’s the early 2000s and she spends most of her time lost in a fog of drink and drugs, partying and playing hard. Orla’s passion for music came from her Dad but with her Dad after leaving her mother for another woman, Orla is devastated. She refuses to talk to him, refuses to acknowledge his new life. To Orla’s eyes he has broken up the family and doesn’t deserve her respect. She becomes very centred on her own circumstances, wallowing in self-pity to the point of disregarding her relationships. Neema is her best friend but it’s clear that even Neema is challenged by some of Orla’s path toward self-destruction.
Annie Macmanus brings the sights, smells and sounds of this era very much to life. I didn’t personally have ‘The London Experience’ but have heard stories from those who did. There’s almost a sense of ‘what stays on tour…’ when you hear folk recount their experiences. I expect to really feel it, you have to live it. The dank conditions of the accommodation, the disenchantment, ambitions thwarted were a common thread across many stories of expats who left Irish shores with hopes of a more exciting and a better life. For many these dreams were very quickly dashed, with many losing their way down a pint glass with a whiskey or two for company. In Orla Quinn’s case, she found herself on a very precarious ledge, living a blurred existence caught up in a spiral of coke, pills and the thrum of the music.
From the beginning Orla embraces this new and hectic life. She quickly immerses herself in its daily rhythms, excited at what lies ahead for her. Every small step forward is another notch on her goal to independence
“I try to stop grinning, to fix my face to look more casual at this scene – this pub in Camden, this band that I live with now – as if this is just a typical evening for me instead of the first night out of the rest of my life. Then the barman catches my eye. I lean forwards. I am a Londoner now. I’m a voice in the noise. I’m ready”
As someone who grew up surrounded by music and, with a brother who was steeped in the local band scene, I loved the attention to detail with all its rawness and grit. Annie Macmanus breathes life into all her characters placing the reader right in the middle of the, at times, almost anarchic life of Orla Quinn. This is a book full of passion and life, a book that beats to its own drum, an exhilarating reading experience. Annie Macmanus knows the music industry well, adding a real authentic and trusted layer to this tale.
The Mess We’re In is the story of a young woman looking for her place in the world. It is a loud, throbbing, non-apologetic, immersive and unyielding story, a novel packed with nostalgia for the chaos of those insane years of our twenties. (although probably not quite that insane!!)
[ Bio ]
Annie Macmanus is an internationally renowned broadcaster, author, DJ, events curator and more. Her debut Sunday Times Bestseller novel Mother Mother was released in paperback this March to critical acclaim and her writing has featured in the Guardian, Irish Times and the Independent and regularly publishes articles via her own blog. She produces her own podcast, ‘Changes with Annie Macmanus’, where she chats to writers, artists and fascinating people from all walks of life about changes they’ve faced.
Annie is a key music industry figure championing female and LGBTQ+ artists and advocating for positive, inclusive change. She also runs the festival Lost & Found in Malta, and can be seen on the biggest stages of music festivals around the UK and the world, and in the DJ booths of the world’s best clubs. Annie has created a far-reaching presence rooted in quality, integrity, and the authentic connections that unite us all as loyal fans.
Twitter ~ @anniemacmanus
What an interesting story, not quite my scene but I enjoyed your thoughts.
Rosie thank you so much x
Very keen to read this one. I really enjoyed Mother Mother.
I haven’t read it Susan but I will be keeping an eye out for it!
Fab review Mairead! Have you read her debut? It’s different but with the same realism and grit
Claire I haven’t but I will rectify that. Must pick up a copy over the summer. Thank you xx