Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou

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Broken Glass by Alain Mabanckou

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Category: Literary Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: While there are some great bits in this novel, the stream of consciousness style and lack of punctuation is often too much to wade through to get to them.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 288 Date: February 2010
Publisher: Serpent's Tail
ISBN: 978-1846686757

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In the Congolese bar of Credit Gone West, the owner Stubborn Snail wants a record of the lives of those who drink there. The man he chooses to write it? Disgraced schoolteacher Broken Glass, who fills up a notebook with the stories of the bar’s patrons – or at least their versions of those tales.

Oh, boy. I wanted to love this one. I really did. I thought the concept sounded fascinating and author Alain Mabanckou is clearly a very talented writer who describes his setting and characters beautifully – except for the way he’s chosen to write this one. Pouring out your prose in a stream of consciousness lacking punctuation in each chapter is an arresting way to make sure your novel stands out from the rest, but the sheer volume of words means that it only works if your story is completely compelling. Some of them, to be fair, are – the opening which sees the government desperately try to come up with a pithy catchphrase for the Prime Minister to rival another politician’s ‘’I accuse’’ is hilarious, while there’s real pathos in the tale of the Printer, fleeing his cheating wife in France.

Unfortunately, though, there were too many stories which for various reasons didn’t interest me as much as these – a particular offender being the story of a man and a woman involved in a urination contest – and by the end the style was too much for me to last long, resorting to putting the book down for a while, picking it up and getting through a few pages at a time.

That said, the ending came close to winning me round – particularly Stubborn Snail’s reaction to being given the notebook; clearly he’s a man after my own heart! I felt Mabanckou wrapped things up well and there was enough here for me to have been glad I read the novel, but the style was a little too off-putting for me to recommend it fully.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag.

Further reading suggestion: For gorgeous literary fiction of the best kind, I love We, the Drowned by Carsten Jensen. We were more impressed by Broken Glass than by Hawthorn and Child by Keith Ridgway.

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