The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris
|The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris|
|Reviewer: James Michael Warren|
|Summary: A flawed but reasonably entertaining swipe at modern media. There's plenty here to like, and plenty not to. But good structure and scramjet pace keep this one flying to the final page.|
|Buy? Maybe||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 422||Date: June 2017|
|Publisher: Marble City Publishing|
|External links: Author's website|
Teenager Liam Glass is mugged and stabbed yards from his Camden flat. As the boy lies comatose, desperate journalist Jason Worthington scrabbles for the inside scoop, tired police officer Andy Rockham searches for a missing tape, harried politician Jamila Hasan fights for re-election, distraught mother Katrina Glass waits by her son, and gym-owner Royland simply finds himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. We follow this host of ensemble characters in a bleak, kaleidoscopic satire of modern media.
Charles Harris's debut novel is a difficult beast to appraise. Not because The Breaking of Liam Glass is particularly unusual, ambitious or esoteric – the usual suspects when it comes to a critical conundrum. But rather the novel's good and bad are so frustratingly scattershot and specific that they refuse to be summated into neat, pithy parcels and well-structured review.
Harris's characters – as is the recurring theme of the novel – are inconsistent in their quality. Jason is by far the most compelling in his moral hand-wringing as he navigates the grey – and occasionally the black – in his quest for career success. Jamila, the weakest, is a cliché representation of a career politician and adds little to the book. To his credit, Harris is self-aware enough to know which of his horses to bet on and page space is adjusted accordingly. We're never in a trite scene long enough for it to become a drag.
Overall, this is true of much of the novel. It's written at a maniacal pace well-suited to the style it aims for, flowing with an intelligent structure, well managing the whirlwind of perspectives to provide that difficult-to-achieve 'Waughian' coherent discombobulation of the satirical genre. Dialogue is pithy, beats are well placed, and the action is often tense when it means to be and when it needs to be.
Unfortunately, Harris's macro-proficiency is often undermined by the strength of his prose. Show, the adage goes, don't tell. Too many times we are told how a character feels – nervous, sad, happy or depressed. We are told how urgently Jason points his finger, and how urgently he drinks his coffee. Every needless overuse of adverbs drags Liam Glass into a lower class of literature.
There are other problems too. The novel is set in 2010, using the London riots as a cultural backdrop – a feature that feels manifestly outdated. The depiction of street gangs and the working class in general at times borders on cardboard cut-out. And one glaring plot detail – so specific it seems odd to mention. Part of Jason's story involves an agent offering one of his footballers to pretend to be the stabbed boy's estranged father in a bid to 'spice up' his public profile. Not only unrealistic in the squeaky-clean world of corporate sponsorship, but a laughably bone-headed plot point that should never have left Harris's drawing board.
Overall, not a bad reading experience. The sharpest criticism forged in a deep frustration that the whole thing wasn't better than it was. A book that makes you wish that has shown glimmers of hope. The Breaking of Liam Glass is sometimes funny, sometimes compelling and sometimes meaningful. If you're happy to sift through the silt, there are a few choice nuggets here to be panned.
For further reading, try The Incredible Crime by Lois Austen-Leigh.
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