A heady evocation of time and place, Kiss the Sky is a love letter to nineties London; a colourful, chaotic carnival ride through rave culture, squat parties, art and idealism in Hackney, Camden Town, Brick Lane and beyond.
From reading début author D.C. Gallin‘s website, along with the introduction about how she sold the first three thousand copies of Kiss the Sky in person, on Portobello Road and Thailand beaches, it’s apparent that the book has been shaped, at least to some extent, by the author’s real-life experiences.
And the believability of Kiss the Sky is what makes it so enjoyable and immersive. Narrated by Claudia, a wannabe artist who drops out of education and moves into a freezing cold studio block with her two best friends, it chronicles their quests for creativity, excitement and adventure, and how to live like hedonists on next to nothing.
From their diet of tinned sardines and apples, to their night-time escapades in which they film each other on the roof wearing nothing but silver angel wings and rollerskates, Gallin captures their infectious enthusiasm and naive idealism down to the last detail, creating characters and situations readers are bound to recognise.
At times clumsy and confused, Claudia and her cohorts veer from one misadventure to another, and while this could sometimes have been more tightly-paced, overall the various detours only serve to reinforce the realism of the characters’ friendships and frustrations. They struggle with loves, lusts and losses, determined to remain true to themselves in spit of restrictions and responsibilities of the world beyond their bubble.
Claudia remains irrepressible and upbeat, even when life becomes dark and difficult. But it’s at this point in the narrative where some readers might lose their sympathy for her. When times get tough, she remains in an uncomfortable and at times downright dangerous situation, despite her wealthy family’s attempts to intervene.
While many will be all too familiar with Claudia’s stubborn desire for independence, in the context of a Hackney council estate, surrounded from all angles by genuine poverty and pain, it smacks of slumming it for the sake of credibility.
The truth and sincerity of Kiss the Sky is its saving grace, promising redemption, self-discovery and resilience in the face of adversity. Its rave reviews on Amazon and elsewhere show how strongly readers have responded to it, and it’s true that Kiss the Sky sucks you in and spits you out; like its colourful cast of misplaced misfits, by the end you’ll be sadder and wiser, but with renewed strength, energy and hope.
If you’ve ever wanted to escape the matrix using the time-honoured tradition of sex, drugs and rock’n’roll, it’s worth a read. But it’s not one for capitalists or cynics. Buy it in paperpback from Foyles, Amazon, or your local independent bookshop, or get the Kindle edition.
Recommended for: Bohemians, counter-capitalists, artists, anarchists and idealists. Anyone who loves London. Anyone still nostalgic for the nineties.
Other recommended reading: For a more factual tour of the counter-culture rave revolution, try DIY Culture: Party and Protest in Nineties Britain. For a collection of short stories written by some of the time’s most avant-garde authors, try Disco Biscuits, edited by Sarah Champion.