Glow is a wonderfully inventive book, with some beautiful writing. Unlike Beauman’s previous two books, this one has a contemporary setting, and it’s very contemporary, taking on things like corporate globalisation, drug culture and surveillance.
The plot is entirely implausible, but that’s part of the fun of it. Beauman seems to delight in setting up his complicated scenario involving a rare drug called glow, disappearances in the Burmese immigrant community of south London, an evil corporation, a pirate radio station foxes exhibiting strange behaviour patterns, and much, much more. He succeeds, just about, in keeping it all moving along successfully, largely due to the sheer energy and creativity of his writing.
Raf is a likeable enough protagonist who gets drawn into a complicated and dangerous world. He’s the kind of protagonist who doesn’t really know what he’s doing, and yet somehow manages to outwit seasoned villains. He bumbles his way through, wanting to do the right thing, and misunderstanding almost everything.
By the end, I didn’t believe a word of it, and didn’t care too much about the multiple twists and turns and double-crossings and double-double-crossings, but it didn’t really matter. I was revelling in the way Ned Beauman told the story. His descriptions are wonderful. Even a dull, generic warehouse is described in an interesting way:
The next building down on the left is a medium-sized warehouse built from grey steel panels with a pitched roof and sliding garage doors at the front, generally looking as if the most exciting thing it could possibly hold is cardboard boxes full of spare parts for machines that make more cardboard boxes.
This is not a book to read for emotional investment in the characters, or for a plot that really draws you in and makes you believe in it. Instead, it’s a book to read for the sheer cleverness of the writer, the skill of his prose, and the way he keeps all these unlikely propositions just teetering on the right side of plausibility. It’s also a funny book in quite a few places, and has some pretty interesting observations on contemporary life. I’d recommend it on that basis, and am looking forward to seeing what Ned Beauman comes up with next. If he can match his skilful writing and his brilliant ideas with a plot that makes more sense, he could really strike gold.