Clear Water by Will Ashton

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Clear Water by Will Ashton

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: An ultra-modern shopping centre, controlled by a perniciously vast corporation, affects many varied lives in this story, which sweeps past slowly, and with not much to say for itself.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Maybe
Pages: 300 Date: June 2007
Publisher: Faber and Faber
ISBN: 978-0571231027

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Peter, in this novel partly about the perniciousness of consumer, lifestyle culture, is a journalist writing about consumer, lifestyle culture. Now normally that would be enough to put me - and I'm sure many others - right off, but his story is one of the more instantly engaging in this web of narratives.

He knows he is a bit naive to expect satisfaction from knowing which ultra-rare ringtone to use, but is still proud. However early on he gets his comeuppance of a kind, as he is weakened by the titular Clearwater shopping centre. This modern, underground marvel uses access to government drivers' records so that its car-park directional screens can address one in the first person.

It is of course the most soul-destroying, artificial environment, but it contains Mandy, the assistant in a dodgy card and "souvenir" shop. Mandy, who can smile without her face changing, we are told. Peter instantly recognises some connection with her, some way in to his career-defining expose of the fickle falsity of Clearwater, but he doesn't find it that easy to get what he wants.

Many of the other characters are failing to get what they want, either. There is Verna Landor, the wartime songstress who turned to bad acting and even worse drugs (whose name is hers supposed to suggest?), and there is Rob, whose short ASCII-based emails to his sister separate each chapter, and speak of regret and metaphysical interfaces with data. (Each to their own.)

The only way you can get what you want, it seems, is to be Barnums, the huge conglomerate that owns everything - information enough to kowtow journalists without them even realising they're being blackmailed, and of course, Clearwater. Heck, in this day and age, they might as well own our souls, and the evidence might be within these pages.

What we ultimately seem to have is a narrative that escalates into what happens when someone tries to out-Barnums Barnums, one that involves a woman back from the dead, an artificial personality, and a cricketer gone to pot and getting literally washed up.

However while such a story immediately brings this book above and beyond any current state-of-the-nation address that you might assume, given Peter's journalese, the whole effect is too big in scope to have any real lesson, any metaphor, whether for consumer culture or otherwise. Clear Water is not, shall we say, a breezy read, with the details of character coming out in a very refined way. This is also to the novel's detriment, as I found one of the major plot strands, that of "King James"'s messianic, persona-changing thread very hard to engage with initially.

I think it is true to agree with the cover puff for once that this book is better than the expected first novel in its surety, and in the way it surpasses any superficiality it might have stuck itself, self-parodyingly, with. However I was ultimately left wanting more clarity, more interest, and a more personable balance of the characters present.

With strong characterisation, ease in change of narrative, and sprinkling of tiny chuckles, there is reason to suggest Will Ashon will return with something more to my taste, but for now this volume passed me by, raising no great emotion for having read it.

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Buy Clear Water by Will Ashton at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy Clear Water by Will Ashton at


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