One of the latest publishing genres is “up lit”, the antidote of “mis lit”. These are uplifting, feel-good books as opposed to the grim tales of bad childhoods and miserablist novels that tend to win the big book awards. And here’s another genre, let’s call it “zit lit” – the autobiographical teenage memoir.
Tracey Thorn is a gifted singer-songwriter who came to attention with the arty pop duo of the 1980s Everything but the Girl and has gone on to have a successful solo career. Thorn’s previous book was the funny and revealing Bedsit Disco Queen which told of making it in pop – the metamorphosis from nobody to somebody. Another Planet is a prequel telling of her teenage years in suburban London. She is abetted by her teenage diary, the entries of which consist of such things as going into St Albans to look for a pair of boots with her pal and coming home empty-handed. As teenage diaries go this isn’t exactly Anne Frank.
Thorn led a comfortable, boring suburban existence. The sort of existence that creative people are quick to kick against and even quicker to leave. Her developing musical tastes from the Eagles and cheesy disco to Bowie and the Buzzcocks is scarcely unique and not particularly interesting. A tip to Ms Thorn: Don’t look back, you might fall over.
Many a pop subversive had comfortable bourgeois backgrounds. Mick Jagger might easily have become a stockbroker. “Working class hero” John Lennon grew up in a tidy semi-detached house with his Aunt Mimi making his bed and providing endless tea and biscuits. Rock has, quite simply, a suburban soul.
But imagine for a moment meeting your 16-year-old self in a timewarp and the things you might say to them – allay their fears about growing up, for instance. In turn, the teenage you could look in wonder at the fiftysomething person they are destined to become. It’s the premise on which much “zit lit” is based.
But not so with Ms Thorn. This really is a wearying story of growing up. How the reader longs for a sadistic nun or wicked stepfather. Talk about teenage torpor. This is all the more surprising given Thorn’s facility as a lyricist. Even if you can’t remember how it felt – the first crush, the smokes behind the bikeshed – how do you feel looking back? We’ll never know. “I’m not the only person to have grown up stifled and bored in suburbia; it’s almost the law. The diary entries, this monotonous litany of having nothing to do, are a relentless howl of frustrated energy,” writes Thorn. Says it all.