The first thing that struck me about Tot Taylor’s The Story of John Nightly is that it is BIG. Seriously big. 896 pages big. A good-looking edition, with a great typographical cover, it’s a true doorstop of a book in the vein of old classics like War and Peace, to which it’s been compared (for length I assume). The second thing, after I’d started reading it, was that it’s a labour of love and a novel the like of which I haven’t read in a long time. Perhaps ever.

The storyline does appear to do what it says on the tin. It’s the biography essentially of John Nightly, a somewhat arcane musician who reached the heady heights of stardom with his 1970 solo album, only to renounce it all. Some three decades later, he’s tracked down by a super fan and persuaded to finish a requiem. This is a hugely simplistic precis of what is an impressively put together, highly creative book, in which fiction is mired in fact.

Taylor blends different writing styles, ideas and forms to create what is an authentic, quite mesmerising piece of work. It’s an astonishing feat – not just in its execution but also in Taylor’s ability to sustain our interest. And yet, I can see the uncertain nature of its form may put some readers off. I hope not. Certainly, if you’re a music fan or just a fan of literature that veers away from accepted norms, that entertains, yes, but also sparks all manner of ideas, this will be of enormous appeal.

The one slight niggle might be that it seems expensive for a paperback; it’s the price of a standard hardback. And yet the value of this book lies in its creativity, its sheer originality.

It’s an experience. It’s terrific.


TOT TAYLOR is a writer, composer and art curator. He is co-director of the Riflemaker Gallery in Soho, London.


The Story of John Nightly | Tot Taylor | Unbound | 19 September 2019 | paperback original | 896 pages |£18.99 

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Acknowledgements: Many thanks to Anne Cater, as always, and to the publisher for sending a review copy and jacket image. All opinions are our own. All rights reserved.

Also of interest:By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept’; ‘Yvonne Battle-Fenton’s Rememembered‘; ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised‘; ‘We should all be feminists‘; The not-so-invisible woman: 150 greats in their own words’;Permission by Saskia Vogel‘; ‘Lisa Ko’s The Leavers, Dialogue’s brilliant debut; ‘RW Kwon’s The Incendiaries’; ‘Beauty in translation – Roxanne Bouchard’s French Canadian noir‘; ‘How Penguin learned to fly – Allen Lane and the Original “Penguin Ten”‘; Dorothy L. Sayer’s Busman’s Holiday – Romek Marber for Penguin Crime (book covers we love).

Select Q&As/interviews: ‘Ausma Zehanat Khan’; Mary Balogh‘; ‘Louise Voss’; ‘Lilja Sigurðardóttir’; ’Tom Cox’; ‘Vanda Symon; ‘Gunnar Staalesen’; Some like it hot – the joy of Carole Mortimer, award-winning novelist


This review is © 2019 by The Literary Shed. All rights reserved. All opinions are our own. We welcome your feedback and comments. If you wish to reproduce this piece, please do contact us to request permission. Thank you so much.

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