cover image Glow


Ned Beauman. Knopf, $25.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-385-35260-4

This droll, clever, and intelligent novel has an undercurrent of thriller, but it’s a young man’s thriller—or, more accurately, a slacker’s thriller. The setting is 2010 London amid a milieu of underemployed 20-somethings in search of love, raves, and drugs, most notably the “glow” of the title, a new, Ecstasy-like designer drug with an epic reputation. Protagonist Raf’s primary occupation seems to be walking the dog who guards the transmitter of a pirate radio station. He’s also dealing with a “non-24-hour sleep/wake syndrome”—he has an abnormal circadian rhythm—that requires a strict, complicated sleep regimen (“It’s like his brain is wearing a novelty watch”). At a rave, he first hears of “glow” and meets the beautiful Cherish. Raf is odd, but the events happening around him are odder still, including the abduction of his friend Theo by a couple of guys driving “a grimy white builder’s van.” The quest for glow, and the story behind the white van, paces the novel, which grows into a complex (but vague) conspiracy story, with lengthy (but interesting) digressions into the backstories of people like Cherish. Beauman writes like a dream (bicycle couriers have a “famished muscularity”), but his plotting is nothing more than a framework supporting a glimpse into a dystopian slacker universe, as well as the neurochemistry of mind-altering substances and the global drug trade. (Jan.)