First Time Solo by Iain Maloney
Shortlisted for Guardian‘s Not the Booker Prize 2014
A gripping and ultimately deeply effecting literary debut, First Time Solo is more than a war story, it is a beautifully rendered portrait of men preparing for conflict and a society on the brink of seismic social change.
It’s 1943 and Jack Devine, a farmer’s son, is finally called up to the RAF. Jack dreams of becoming a pilot, breaking hearts, and returning home a hero. The realities of training are very different, with boredom, bullying, and casual violence the norm. Drawn together by a love of jazz music, Jack makes friends with Terry, a worldly Welshman dabbling in the black market; Joe, an active Communist, as well as Yorkshire poet Doug. Jack, Joe and Terry form a jazz band to surprising acclaim and for a while an alternative future to that preordained for each seems possible. But the initial camaraderie soon gives way to simmering resentment as age-old tensions resurface, ultimately resulting in tragedy.
‘First Time Solo perfectly evokes the transience and fractured normality of wartime life… he has created characters and relationships who feel genuine â€“ normal people reacting to extraordinary situations.Â Maloneyâ€™s debut is navigated with compassion, humour and grace. Letâ€™s hope that his First Time Solo is not his last. [****]
‘Both worlds, the military and musical, are vividly portrayed, and the resultant novel thus throws welcome light on both a neglected aspect of Second World War history (the transformation of raw civilians into fighting men) and the beginnings of the bebop movement in UK jazz. Its characters are deftly and compassionately drawn and are convincing enough to carry, credibly and entertainingly, a tight plot that compels attention throughout. In short, First Time Solo is an engrossing, consistently readable debut from a skilful and sensitive writer.’
London Jazz News
‘I was captivated by Jack’s coming of age amid the personal and political dramas of the Second World War. Finely-crafted, hugely compassionate and often very funny, First Time Solo is an assured debut flight by an author to watch.’
Zoe Strachan, author of Negative Space, Spin Cycle and Ever Fallen in Love
‘This is an assured debut in which Maloney uses a confident and authentic grasp of era and setting to create a compelling set of characters facing issues of friendship, loyalty, ambition and revenge. An engrossing read.’
J David Simons, author of The Credit Draper, The Liberation of Celia Khan and An Exquisite Sense of What is Beautiful
‘All in all an intriguing debut, one that’s made its way to the short list for 2014’s Not The Booker prize, and definitely an author to watch out for.’
Our Book Reviews Online
‘Left me wanting more.’ Historical Novel Society