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.