Since the release of Daisy Jones and the Six back in 2019, narratives about fictional bands, singers and songwriters have undergone something of a renaissance. Dawnie Walton’s debut The Final Revival of Opal & Nev builds on the oral history format of Daisy Jones, and takes the next step. Walton succeeds in telling a story that is on the one hand, quite intimate, but also about so much more than the novel’s eponymous duo.
The Final Revival of Opal & Nev follows the rise and fall, and potential rise again, of Opal Jewel and Nev Charles. Opal is a talented, rebellious and larger-than-life African-American singer from Detroit, Michigan, while Nev, hailing from Birmingham England, is a singer-songwriter on his last chance for a music career. The novel follows their glacial rise to prominence, until one fateful event puts them on the map for good, while also significantly altering their relationship and their lives.
It is always a good sign if a book like this has you hitting up Spotify or Apple Music in the vain hope that the band in question wasn’t fictional after all. The world of Opal & Nev that Walton has crafted is so well realised and grounded in reality that none of the plot felt far fetched. The characters too, bar perhaps the fabulous Virgil, eschew caricature and stereotypes. Instead, they feel at home in the world that Walton has created, but also alongside the real life people she occasionally drops into the story. It becomes all to easy too forget that it is a work of fiction, and none of this really happened.
Walton also uses the story of this fictional band to make wider commentary, especially in regards to issues of race and prejudice. Whether it is the central event around which much of plot revolves, moments in Opal’s past, or the narrator S Sunny Shelton’s experiences, racism is a particularly insidious presence. And, whilst much of the novel is set in or focused on the past, the issues it explores remain incredibly pertinent today. It is a story of power, privilege, inequality, racism and the fight for justice.
Dawnie Walton has set the bar high for herself on her debut; and there is no denying The Final Revival of Opal & Nev’s quality. From the world building, to the characterisation, to the plotting and execution, Walton barely takes a wrong step. A strong and powerful debut, and an early contender for my favourite book of 2021.