Glow (2015), by Ned Beauman, is about the entanglement of the industry that designs and manufactures illegal drugs with freedom fighters and multinational corporations. By standard definitions, those who manufacture illegal drugs are criminals. In this novel, we deal not only with those criminals but with criminals who go to any lengths to promote and protect the interests of international corporations. This interesting novel did not at first grab me, but eventually I found myself engaged. I stayed up late reading, and then, at some point, my interest waned.
Several of the leading characters in Glow are experts not only in the manufacture of drugs but also in the anatomy of the brain and of the chemicals and neurological processes affected by drugs meant to excite the brain for purposes of producing pleasure. We’re much exposed in this novel to the chatter of these characters about the brain’s anatomy, and after a time the chatter becomes as tiresome as discussions about sports or about how to build a deck. It doesn’t sustain the novel.
There are many mysteries here involving the nature of the white vans that cruise throughout London, kidnapping Burmese citizens, and about strangely behaving foxes. There’s a beautiful young woman named Cherish with whom the main character Raf falls in love. There’s a missing friend. The plot rapidly thickens. I found it increasingly difficult to follow the thickening tangle of events. Is this my fault or the novel’s?
One interesting device the writer employs is that of introducing a secondary character who then proceeds to tell a long story about himself or about someone he knows, and this provides information of importance to the general plot of the novel. Such a device should seem artificial or contrived, but for the most part it works. Glow is well written and intelligent, and every few pages the writer manages to trot out a new word—a word so unfamiliar that I had to look it up—and this should have been more of a distraction than it was. There’s a cleverness in how this novel interweaves competing concepts and ideas—sometimes excessive cleverness.