This is the third, and most straightforward Ned Beauman novel I have read. After the description defying Boxer Beetle and the looping swooping picaresque Teleportation Accident, Glow is almost run of the mill. Had it been written by somebody else, rather than describing it as straightforward I’d be saying it was a psychedelic mind-bending crime caper, because, well, that’s what it is.
Raf, a young man with a sleep disorder and a penchant for experimental drugs is at a rave in a laundrette in Peckham. Here he meets the enigmatic Cherish. He proceeds to give her some dodgy ‘Glow’ before she disappears leaving Raf wondering whether she ever really existed. After that things fall apart.
The head of the pirate radio station that Raf listens to disappears in unusual circumstances, and curiously, the station starts broadcasting a Burmese culture segment. When a crumpled man claiming to be from M16 starts talking about silent white vans plucking strangers off the street, Raf finds himself embroiled in a complicated corporate plot.
In the main I enjoyed Glow a great deal. It has that same askew world-view that Beauman brings to his other novels. It’s the world I live in but it’s described in a manner I’ve never contemplated before. His prose brings a freshness to the old and tired, and there are few things tireder than a inner London suburb. There is a wonderful theme running through the book of circadian rhythms. Various characters, for different reasons find their body clocks are out of sync with the rest of humanity. The way Beauman depicts these disorders makes them feel other-worldly. A great number of words are devoted to the psychotropic nature of drugs such as MDMA and the fictional Glow. Tied into this is a plot involving American corporations operating in Burma. This SE Asian theatre, the drugs and the multiple strands of misinformation put me in mind of Dennis Johnson’s multi-stranded novel ‘Tree of Smoke’.
The plot tends towards the preposterous, which again is typical of Beauman’s novels, but there is big enough vein of truth to make the events plausible if improbable. The thriller aspects of the novel entertain, the descriptions of the effects of the drugs inform (sometimes overly so) and the writing often dazzles. Occasionally I found the rarified language used grated, sometimes feeling out of context from setting and narrator, but it doesn’t derail the novel as a whole. With Glow Beauman has written a novel based upon a common premise and given it a fresh and unique flavour. I’m not sure if this will convert Beauman’s detractors or gain him a new following, but if you’re a fan there is much to enjoy here. If you’ve not read Beauman before I think I’d recommend starting with Boxer Beetle.
This book was sent to me as part of the Amazon Vine Programme.