Book Review: The Ghost of Neil Diamond by David Milnes

The Ghost of Neil Diamond by David MilnesThis sounded like a fun book and a bit “different”. So it was. But while there was nothing wrong with the writing, I didn’t like the story too much. I didn’t like the main character and could not understand why he did what he did.

The Ghost of Neil Diamond: What it is about

Neil Atherton is a fading folk singer who has followed his wife Angel from the UK to Hong Kong, where she works while he does very little. On a karaoke night in a bar he does a fantastic rendition of a Neil Diamond song. A man claiming to be an impresario, Elbert Chan, suggests they talk about a contract to perform in the best clubs of Hong Kong.

But Neil is left waiting for things to happen. His wife has enough of Neil’s loafing and she throws him out, giving him money to go back to England. But Neil is smelling success and relies on Elbert Chan to make it all happen for him.

The Ghost of Neil Diamond: What I thought

I loved the premise and the setting. The fading singer is given a last chance to make something of his life, but is being kept waiting by Elbert Chan, who may or may not be who he says and may or may not have work for him.

I didn’t agree with Neil staying in Hong Kong. I thought he should have listened to his wife and gone home. I would have bought a plane ticket from the money she’d given me and be out of there. Not because there is something wrong with Hong Kong, but because it was obvious staying would lead him nowhere good. Maybe the book didn’t explain well enough for me why it was so important that Neil stay in Hong Kong (or that Neil tries one last time to follow this doubtful career option). In any case, I didn’t buy it, and that made the book less interesting for me.

There are some fun encounters in the book, for instance with a Sammy Davis Jr. impersonator and later, with a more well-known Neil Diamond impersonator. There’s fake glamour and seediness, hope and the harsh reality. Towards the end of the book things start to look up for Neil, in a most doubtful way. He takes impersonation a step further, which was very fun to read about.

It was not quite a book for me, but this dark comedy has a lot to go for it. If you enjoy reading about a middle-aged man who is desperate to make something of his life, this is a great book.

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Number of pages: 290

First published: 2008

I got this book: from the author for review

Genre: contemporary fiction

Extra: See the review by Parrish Lantern, who loved the book and A Little Blog of Books and Other Stuff who highly recommends it.


Have you read this book?

What did you think?

About Leeswammes
I'm owner and editor at In my free time, I read and review books on my two blogs, Leeswammes' Blog and De Boekblogger.

11 Responses to Book Review: The Ghost of Neil Diamond by David Milnes

  1. parrish lantern says:

    I think (from what I recall) the reason he stays is there is absolutely nothing back in England for him, as I said in my post he almost touched success in the British folk movement of the 60s & early 70s with acts like fairport convention. Whereas these acts went on to greater acclaim either as groups or their members as solo artists, he got left behind still playing the dingy backroom of pubs. In the time frame the book is set even those venues were dying as peoples music taste had changed or the pubs that would have those acts closed. Leaving him with nothing but a miniscule thread of hope in Hong Kong to grasp.
    PS. If this was now coming home would have been the better option as the UK has had a bit of a folk revival in the last couple of years 😉

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your explanation, Gary. You’re right, there wasn’t really anything for him left in England. I just thought his options in HK were so slim, that it didn’t seem a good idea to stay, either.

  2. Tony says:

    “I thought he should have listened to his wife and gone home. I would have bought a plane ticket from the money she’d given me and be out of there.”

    The thing is (and this is very important) he most definitely is *not* you. He is a has-been singer who is clutching at one last chance of fame. He would kill for a chance to stand on stage and be adored 😉

  3. Not for me, this book I think. 🙂

  4. David Milnes says:

    Leeswammes – thanks for your clear and honest review. I’m glad you liked some of the book, at least, and I’m grateful for the time you spent reading it and writing about it. Toni and Parrish – thanks for the defence! I’m very proud of The Ghost of Neil Diamond and remain confident about its future. Bumping along the literary underground in this way I feel lucky to find anyone going vaguely in my direction, let alone people with the same place in mind.

    • Leeswammes says:

      Thanks for your comment, David. Of course we don’t all like the same books. I didn’t enjoy it quite as much as I had hoped, but that is my personal opinion. It seems you have some loyal fans in Toni and Gary. I wish you all the best with the book.

  5. Leslie says:

    You had me until the last sentence of the review. I like dark comedy but the last book I read about an aging rock star that was a failure most of his life was a bust.

    • Leslie says:

      Oh… the book was One Last Thing Before I Go. Didn’t want to leave you wondering. lol It was supposed to be funny but I disliked the characters.

      • Leeswammes says:

        Leslie, of course you can’t compare one book with another just because of the topic. You may well enjoy this book, it wouldn’t surprise me. 🙂

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