The Glister by John Burnside - Book Review

If you’re one of those readers who need a solid ending, skip The Glister. You’ll not find an answer spelled out on the page. You’ll close the book and wonder what happened. Was it this? Or this? Could it have been as simple as that? You might even turn back and wonder if you’ve missed something, too much of a simpleton to understand all that beautiful language on the page.

You can pop around the Internet, trying to find a review that says, “the dead boys went here.” You won’t find it. If you find someone claiming to know the answer, it’ll be their own interpretation and up for a “did the author mean to be so damned ambiguous?” debate.

Still later, you’ll remember this horror tale fondly, even though you never read horror and you’re not even certain that horror is the genre that best fits the story. You’ll smirk, thinking of Leonard, the teen protagonist, glistening for eternity in a book you might not have liked, but you won’t soon forget.

The Glister is a mystery. Not Sherlock Holmes or Agatha Christie. Think Twilight Zone, fully in black and white with odd musical notes and dark one-dimensional characters. Your setting is Innertown, an amalgamation of death, toxins and small town simplicity. The town’s a ruined place of people living out their lives in that oft mimicked quiet desperation. In a town like this, there’s no one watching the teenagers and they’re doing things unsupervised teens do, having unprotected sex, running in gangs, looking for dead things to prove that they are vitally alive. And teens left unsupervised are certain to go missing; some doom certain to befall them. Yet for all of this blackness, the writer (who I’m told is a poet) manages to find a beautiful luminous landscape to pen his tale. The setting is absolutely gossamer in its dark descriptive, and the ambiance is tension-filled, yet somehow retains the tenderness of youth.

However, while the writer is busy painting this nuanced shadowy setting, he forgets to add any depth to his characters. Leonard, the young protagonist, is fantastic. I loved him (well, up until a point), but the others are like walking dead (and I mean that in flat character-speak, not zombie-speak). Perhaps this is the angle he was hoping for, as it is a tale of lives filled with emptiness, but it makes for a hard investment for this character-driven reader.

I don’t usually link to Amazon reviews, as I find insult in their copyright policy, but author Jim Crace wrote a review that so perfectly illustrates my own experience with The Glister, I’ll have to let him close my own review: HERE (just scroll down a small bit).

The Glister will be available on March 10, 2009.
Thank you to Doubleday Publishing and Shelf Awareness for allowing me the chance to preview this thought-provoking title early.

© 2007-2009


caite said...

This is in my TBR pile (I am a bit
I must say it sounds interesting.


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