Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis

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Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis

Category: Biography
Rating: 3/5
Reviewer: Iain Wear
Reviewed by Iain Wear
Summary: A biography of someone who kept everyone around him at a distance. Even after being married to him, Deborah Curtis proves that he didn't let her get any closer than anyone else and the biography is lacking.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 240 Date: October 2007
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571239566

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The list of rock stars who have been taken from us early is a long one. Many have lived the rock 'n roll lifestyle to excess and paid the ultimate price. Others have died through no fault of their own, their deaths a tragedy. Far fewer are those who have deliberately snuffed out their own spark. Kurt Cobain of Nirvana is perhaps the highest profile of these but more than a decade before he killed himself there was Ian Curtis of Joy Division.

Deborah Curtis seems to be the person in the best position to talk about Ian Curtis' life, as she shared many years of it as his girlfriend and wife. She knew him from when he was just schoolboy with big dreams and was with him during his rise to fame, through until his sad end. She would see every side of Ian Curtis but, like many, would believe that the depressing lyrics he wrote were just something he was writing, not something he was feeling.

Deborah Curtis takes us through her own life as it intersects with Ian's and describes the loneliness of being his wife as he became more emotionally distant and as his work with Joy Division took him physically away from her. She describes her worries about his epilepsy and how working too hard to get a break might have hurt him and how it was that no one, including herself, saw Ian's suicide coming. There are quotes from other people associated with the band, but the book is mostly just Deborah Curtis and her memories.

The issue is that Ian Curtis kept everyone at arm's length, including his wife, and refused to let her join in on his rise to fame. So whilst her recollections of his attempts to become famous and the early days of Joy Division are quite detailed, she was shut out as they became more popular and were touring Europe and details of this part of Ian Curtis' life are either reported second hand or omitted completely.

This will disappoint the fans, as this is as much a biography of Deborah Curtis as it is of Ian Curtis. Whilst she never loses sight of the fact that Ian is the person everyone will want to know about, it's written in such a way that she is the focus of most of the book. That doesn't mean this is not a sometimes fascinating insight into his life before he became famous, but it does mean that there is more detail in these sections than there is in the parts that describe his life after Joy Division really made their mark, which the book's subtitle suggest the book is about.

Unfortunately, this lack of information about his more famous years means the book is quite superficial. There are mentions of how his fame affected his epilepsy and how he seemed obsessed with depressing subjects, but as the band and his wife missed the link between this and his eventual end, there is no real exploration of the link. It may be that my personal interest in psychology makes this more of a loss for me than it would for others, but it does seem like a major omission to me.

I'm someone who is aware of Joy Division, although due to my age I only became so some years after Ian Curtis' death. From this perspective, the lack of detail about the band's history isn't something I really miss. For the long term and dedicated fan, however, this could leave such a large hole as to render the book mostly pointless, in much the same way that the lack of exploration into the psychology of Ian Curtis did for me. The inclusion of several long lists; of the band's concerts, a discography and Ian Curtis' lyrics, both published and previously unseen, may provide a minor redeeming feature for the fan, however.

If you're aware of the band, this is worth a read, if only the once. It's a simply written book and is easier to read than the depressing subject matter would suggest. If you have any around, it is beneficial to be able to read the book with some of Joy Division's music in the background, as it can help to underline the points about Ian Curtis' state of mind. However, it does say something about the book that the best insights into the man come from the work of the man himself and not from the words of the author. The distance that Ian Curtis kept his wife at for much of their lives together not only had an adverse affect on their marriage, but has also had an adverse affect on this book.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy of this book to The Bookbag.

You might also enjoy Killing Yourself To Live by Chuck Klosterman.

Buy Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis at

Buy Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Touching From A Distance: Ian Curtis and Joy Division by Deborah Curtis at


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Magda said:

Sad case of another wifey trying to capitalise on something she had no real idea about, then. I am afraid I become totally unsisterly when rock'n'roll is concerned...