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3.9 out of 5 stars47
3.9 out of 5 stars
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Ned Beauman is a quirky, inventive writer. He writes with an immediacy, a sense of playfulness. Much of his material is quite surreal and ever-so-stylised.

So with Glow, we find ourselves in a pastiche of an urban lad-lit novel. Young men hop from bedsit to bedsit doing drugs all night and crashing in cafes all the day. They sleep around and don't have proper jobs. You know the genre.

Unlike the pulp fiction it emulates, Glow buries itself in huge pharmacological levels of detail and includes surreal undercurrents involving white vans, foxes and Burma. Add to this a chap called Raf who has a rare sleep disorder causing him to operate on a 25 hour cycle, a pirate radio station, a Staffie called Rose and a heap of soundproofed warehouses popping up all over the place. It's mad.

After engaging the reader for about half the novel, where intricate conspiracies within conspiracies just about stay intelligible, the novel just gets too clever for its own good. One paradigm shift too many and the reader is lost, bewildered and there's no way back. The bluffs within bluffs within bluffs are technically incredible, but end up disengaging the reader.

It's a pity, because at its heart there is a good novel trying to break out. The back story of multi-nationals shafting Burmese farmers; the corporate greed and cynicism; the industrial espionage could have worked if only it had stayed within some sort of limits.

The ending is a whimper - two codas tacked on that don't seem to lead anywhere or originate from anywhere. Clearly some significant changes have happened, but they happened in a drug fuelled blur and it feels like a cop out.

The ideas make the whole novel worth reading (just about), but it is liable to leave the reader feeling frustrated that the execution was not as elegant as the concept.
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on 8 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
For some reason, I've been struggling to finish novels, it's a testament to this one that I read it all in a couple of sittings. Clever, well plotted, believable and achingly cool, I can't recommend this more highly. Wonderful stuff.

Raf, a young man from South London, has a rare sleep disorder which means his circadian rhythms don't run along the same sort of lines as other people. This has an impact on his ability to be a reliable worker or to form serious relationships. He spends his days working for pirate radio stations and programming.

This leads him into the world of Glow, a new recreational drug on the streets of London. It's a mystery where it comes from, but the mystery seems linked to the murky dealings of a multinational company which seems overly obsessed with a number of Burmese living in the capital.

Beauman handles the various threads of the story well and it's certainly not an embarrassing read, given some of the subject matter.

Well worth your time, recommended!
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the third, and most straightforward Ned Beauman novel I have read. After the description defying Boxer, Beetle and the looping swooping picaresque The 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.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
The "Glow" of the title is a new, and highly spoken of, drug which in 2010 London... nobody can actually find. Raj thinks he's obtained some but it just makes his friends sick. Fortunately, he doesn't take it himself because he's just met this great girl at a rave in a laundrette so he's OK. He doesn't know what the effect of knowing Cherish will be, or how dangerous things will soon get, or he might have stuck with the fake Glow.

The early chapters of this book reminded me of Beauman's last, The Teleportation Accident - specifically, the nostalgia for a lost time of better drugs, and the general atmosphere of rackety hedonism. 2000s South London might not often be compared to 30s Berlin, but Raj's circle of busy, pleasure seeking yet hard working chancers - Theo, who runs a pirate radio station, Isaac, who dreams of holding a real, 80s rave - could move seamlessly between the two.

But that's only the start. That meeting at the launderette leads Raf to a fast paced adventure featuring abductions, corporate greed, pharmaceutical hobbyists, great Burmese food and foxes - lots and lots of foxes. It reminded me of a techno-thriller like Cryptonomicon but with the tech background based on hacking drugs, rather than code - Raf and his friends show the same eye for an opportunity, the same drive, as Stephenson's tech entrepreneurs but grow on a different substrate. And as with Stephenson, this is a book about what might be, how stateless corporations might evolve, how stateless revolutionaries might evolve, how the whole world can come to a London backstreet.
It's a gripping story. The only point where I had reservations was when it seemed about to be interrupted by the back history of a down-on-his-luck PR man. That pretty soon keyed into the story, though, and when Beauman repeated the trick with a couple of other characters it didn't jar at all.

Beauman is really good with language - here, for example, is a corporate type spotted off duty at the climbing gym

"He's just started limbering up his hands on his way across the crash mats, cracking knuckles and wriggling fingers in a routine so complicated that it looks as if he's casting some sort of necromantic enchantment..."

Then thre are the "pallets of flesh-coloured bricks, wrapped in a thick plastic that makes them look to Raf like stacks of human biceps".

Or look at the "...early morning light, grainy and pale like and old VHS recording..."

It's all very vivid, very, entertaining, very... glowy. With this third book, Ned Beauman is an author who's definitely on my must-read list.
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VINE VOICEon 14 April 2015
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I rather liked The Teleportation Accident, Ned Beauman's last novel. It was cleverly plotted and stupendously well-written. Beauman's mastery of language is in evidence here, too… in spades. In fact, on a line-by-line purely aesthetic basis, he’s hard to beat. Check out this description of the moon as a "silver pill half dissolved on the tongue of the night". But as a novel… this is all over the place! Beauman seems more concerned with showcasing his brilliant facility with language than with the small matters of plot and character: the former manages to feel both intricate and flabby… there’s lots of dialogue 'padding' required to keep the plotting alive; the latter are horribly under-developed – their motivations nondescript. It’s another spectacularly well written book but very difficult to engage with or care about.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Author Ned Beauman writes eloquently with evocatively metaphorical language that would make his novel ‘Glow’ worthy of a 5-star rating if the storyline could match the telling. Unfortunately for me this is not the case and I found narrative to be pretentious with an enormous array of words requiring me to reach for a dictionary. Also the author repeatedly slips in lengthy commentaries on subjects of medicine, science, technology and mathematics that left me reeling.

The time is the present and the convoluted story starts in London with insights to a new hallucinatory drug - glow. Main protagonist Raf is a sort of anti-hero who suffers from a sleep disorder and is socially sidelined. He falls for a half Burmese half American girl, he has a sprinkling of his friends connected to a local radio station, plus Raf comes up against others along the way. Dialogue incorporates observations and commentaries of episodes in the past that are necessary to clarify what is happening for bewildered readers. Oh - and not forgetting the involvement of foxes that keep appearing in a variety of situations. All this is intertwined with Burmese politics mining company seeking to control the production of glow via a global conspiracy - and setting about it by kidnapping people in white vans! It is difficult to make sense of the disjointed narrative, and the smattering of crude sexual encounters is further diversion.

No amount of quality of writing can offset the facts that characters are not credible and the inflated plot is implausible. It is difficult to determine the genre of ‘Glow’ - I suppose it’s a sort of thriller, but the eloquent prattle of the narrative distracts from this view. Ned Beauman has won various literary awards and has been selected by Granta as the youngest of Britain’s best novelists in a ‘once-a-decade line-up’ - but his third novel ‘Glow’ is not for me. However I admit I am on the wrong side of the generation gap that likely divides me from his fans.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Being one of the few (apparently. Opinions vary, but - The Man Booker people aside - they're mostly on the ambivalent end of the scale) who actually loved The Teleportation Accident, and Boxer, Beetle too, I was hoping for more of the same from Ned Beauman, but Glow is very, very different. This is - at its most basic - a whodunnit conspiracy thriller with additional pharmaceuticals (an awful lot of the latter). Lots happens (not going to spoil): most which concerns criminal multi-national goings-on in Burma/Myanmar and other exotic locations, but for the most part, it's very London-centric.
As you'd expect from a Ned Beauman novel, it's a mad and mental ride - but nothing like as insane as I was expecting/hoping. It's actually rather tame in that regard, decidedly less imaginative than his previous novels (the ones I loved). This feels like Ned's bid for the mainstream. Consequently, I've no doubt it will do better, be more popular, than his previous work. I enjoyed it: it's a genuine thriller; it kept me guessing, but I didn't love it. I prefer his usual, totally off his synapses style. I appreciate mine is a minority opinion; please do not let it sway you. If you're in the market for an odder-than-average conspiracy thriller, this cannot fail to please you.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 24 February 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Ned Beauman, in his third novel, leaves the fascist thirties behind to focus on the sinister forces of the twenty-first century. Raf's main concerns are recreational drugs and trying to find a girlfriend who can live with his off-kilter circadian rhythms: however when his friend is bundled into a strangely silent white van on the streets of South London, he turns investigator, opening the lid on an audacious case of corporate skulduggery.

Raf is a likeable character and Beauman has plenty of striking scenes and stories within stories to make you savour the prose and want to keep turning the pages (he even manages the rare feat of making drug-taking scenes interesting). Like Beauman's earlier novels, "Glow" might not be to everyone's taste (especially if you have an aversion to similes) but I for one thoroughly enjoyed its mix of witty writing, arcane trivia, and exciting plot.
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VINE VOICEon 28 April 2014
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Free parties, youth, music, drugs, sex and cynicism about capitalism/big corporations are the stuff of this novel. There are glimpses of Iain Banks at times, but whereas Bank's characters might be post University/misplaced middle class the characters here are younger and more contemporary. An international conspiracy is stumbled into, and (if I may mix my similes) is tackled with Secret Severn amateurism and improbability. Sometimes the unlikely conspiracy frustrates and annoys me with its improbability but here it seems to form a rather hallucinatory farce somehow maintaining an internal trippy consistency that I found thoroughly entertaining. No, it's not a work of huge literary merit, and no it doesn't form a coherent critique of capitalism, but it is enjoyable, and a book I'd recommend.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having enjoyed Beauman’s “The Teleportation Accident”, it was interesting to drop back into Beauman’s world in “Glow”.

There is some great writing in here. Original ideas and unexpected analogies abound. The London occupied by the central character Raf, whose view on life jumps from minutiae to cosmic at the drop of a hat, is atmopsheric and well-rendered. The world of pirate radio stations, dodgy fast food joints and a cross-cultural melting pot is so realistic you can practically smell the grease. I can see why Beauman is highly regarded as a writer.

The problem for me with “Glow” is that it bites off more than it can chew. It starts off well, a nice little set-piece of drug dealing and mystery disappearances. However, not content with playing out across London, the plot ‘goes global’ and starts travelling to war zones and tackling big politics (I won’t say too much in case of spoilers). This is where it slightly loses its way. A little less ambition on the writer’s part would’ve led to a more tightly-wrapped and believable story.

There’s also a slight over-preoccupation with drug science. Extensive name-dropping of different compounds and drug-making processes doesn’t add anything to the narrative and feels just a little too much like the author saying “look, I’ve done my first-hand research.”

These are minor criticisms for a story that’s otherwise very well-formed and an enjoyable read. At little over 200 pages, it’s short and sharp and well worth the time.
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