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Glow by Ned Beauman review – a new drug hits London

For The Guardian:

The Man Booker-nominated author is overwhelmed by his own tortuous plot…

I once had a wise old American editor who believed that the secret to becoming a great novelist lay in learning the lesson that a brilliant facility with language is beside the point.

This advice was near-impossible to digest – not least, as she acknowledged, because a young writer is often acclaimed precisely because of this quality. But in order to produce work of the highest standard, she contended, a novelist needs to master tectonics – structure, how to maintain momentum without sacrificing depth, how to create and manage the deeper emotional vectors of the cast while paying conscious attention to the reader’s experience, and so on. Only then, she advised, might he or she deploy their linguistic gifts in the service of an artistic creation worthy of their style. She cited  many significant writers, Bellow among them, whom she felt had spent their first few novels “determinedly showing off about nothing very much” before they “got it”. And then – boom! The holy grail. A reverberating subject written in an incandescent style.

On the evidence of Glow, his third novel, I find Ned Beauman to be both a superb writer and a mediocre novelist. And, of course, the further proof of the former – his great facility with language – is the main reason for the disappointment of the latter. Beauman’s second novel was longlisted for the Man Booker prize and his first shortlisted for both the Guardian first book award and the Desmond Elliott prize. In other words, if he were not so good, it wouldn’t matter that Glow seems so glib and gauchely assembled; instead, I’d be reviewing a slightly silly caper by a guy who may or may not go on to have a career writing more of the same.

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