Glitterland

Title: Glitterland
Author: Alexis Hall
Cover Artist: Kanaxa
Publisher: Self Published
Buy Link: Buy Link Amazon
Genre: Contemporary;
Length: Novel (248 pages/63K words)
Rating: 3.5 stars out of 5

A Guest Review by LenaLena

Review Summary: I really wanted to like Glitterland. I did like Glitterland. But it had issues.

Blurb

The universe is a glitterball I hold in the palm of my hand.
Once the golden boy of the English literary scene, now a clinically depressed writer of pulp crime fiction, Ash Winters has given up on love, hope, happiness, and—most of all—himself. He lives his life between the cycles of his illness, haunted by the ghosts of other people’s expectations.
Then a chance encounter at a stag party throws him into the arms of Essex boy Darian Taylor, an aspiring model who lives in a world of hair gel, fake tans, and fashion shows. By his own admission, Darian isn’t the crispest lettuce in the fridge, but he cooks a mean cottage pie and makes Ash laugh, reminding him of what it’s like to step beyond the boundaries of anxiety.
But Ash has been living in his own shadow for so long that he can’t see past the glitter to the light. Can a man who doesn’t trust himself ever trust in happiness? And how can a man who doesn’t believe in happiness ever fight for his own?

Review

Alexis Hall has enormous potential. He is not afraid of difficult MCs, with serious issues. Ash, the narrator of this 1st person POV story has type 1 bipolar disorder. He has panic attacks and periods of depression that he shares with the reader. In his past he has been hospitalized during manic episodes and there has been at least one suicide attempt. He is sometimes genuinely debilitated by his mental issues and sometimes he uses them as an excuse or as a means to manipulate his friends. Ash is honest to god a bit of an ass. He’s funny, so that helps, but it is kind of hard to see why he has any friends at all, because he is mean to them most of the time. It’s obvious everyone sees something in him, but what that is exactly is not so clear to the reader. The upside is that at least Ash comes to realize he is an ass. I can point out some m/m books in which neither the MC nor the author seems to realize the MC is very unpleasant, so I prefer tales of redemption like this one.

Hall also doesn’t make the mental issues magically disappear when they become inconvenient for the love story, although they do seem to get a bit better. I suppose that comes with Ash’s growth as a character. It is interesting to see how his mental illness affects his daily life and his relationships and it does give you a measure of sympathy for Ash, enough so that at least you root for him to become a better person and feel that he deserves his happiness in the end.

Hall’s dialog shines. Especially the ones that aren’t with Darian. As good as the latter are, the way the accent is written is jarring. Some of you won’t care, but if you couldn’t get through Zero at the Bone because of the accent you should not even start this. My personal preference would be to keep the word use (‘well special’, ‘you donut’) but to not write it phonetically. It doesn’t work for many people and especially ESL readers are going to have a hell of a time figuring out what the characters are saying, which is not conducive to an enjoyable reading experience.

I especially loved the conversations with Amy, Niall and Max. They were witty, sharp and insightful. Kudos to Hall for not even featuring one single loathsome female character, by the way. Thank you, sir! The humor in this book is excellent and there lots of funny scenes in which the writing is great. There was a good balance between the darker, emotional parts of the book and the lighter bits, which made things neither unbearably angsty nor disappointingly fluffy.

This is Hall’s first book and he must keep writing, because he has the potential to be very good. But there are a few issues, besides the phonetically written accent, that I hope he will avoid in the future.

First of all he uses some of the tiredest old tropes in the romance genre. As if the mental issues would not provide enough material for a good story, the main trope he uses is the class difference / opposites attract one. The Oxbridge Intellectual and the Ibiza Party Boy, in this case. Class difference has been done to death in het romance and in m/m I can think of a few right off the top of my head, like Brainy and the Beast, Muscling Through etc. In the end, I am not sure I’ve completely bought into Ash and Darien as a couple, but that is a bit of a minor niggle. Also, the Big Misunderstanding in this book may not come from the The-Attractive-Redhead-You-Thought-You-Saw-Me-Flirting-With-Is-Actually-My-Cousin-Trope, but the one Hall uses is almost equally tired and worn out. He’d better not be planning to use an OMG-You-Almost-Died-I-Love-You in his next book, is all I’m saying.

The first third of the book, that we spend with Ash only, is written in a style that some might call lyrical prose, but that for me often crossed the line into purple. I am not asking Hall to turn into Voinov or Manna Francis, that isn’t who he is or who he should want to be, but a little more self restraint on the metaphors would help immensely. Sometimes they were opaque to the point of having to read them two or three times to figure out what they meant and that killed the flow of the story. Praise Amazon for the built in dictionary in the kindle, it was heavily used for this book. Although I have to express my disappointment in the New Oxford American Dictionary’s inability to deal with Essex colloquialisms. After Darian becomes more prominent in the story and we’re not so caught up in Ash’s observations and lamentations all the time, the writing gets a lot less purple, and the whole book lightens up.

The author also has an odd habit of interrupting the immersion in Ash’s sometimes intense emotions with intellectual reflections that have an oddly distancing effect just when that is uncalled for. For instance in the middle of an anxiety attack we get this (italics are mine):

“My eyes burned as I bargained desperately and silently with a God I didn’t believe in. Ah, the pitiful prayers of a rational man. If the mad can be so called. I twisted under Essex’s arm and his deep even breathing gusted over my skin.”

And later, in the middle of being fucked over his desk we get:

“But he was there to hold me pinned between the twin pleasures of his hand and his cock….I writhed in pursuit of both, letting his body and all its lean strength drive away everything but desire and the frantic, undignified scramble after physical release. Whatever the internal mechanism that moderated the human capacity for joy, mine had long been broken beyond repair. And I knew this was a poor substitute, a base shadow cast on the cave wall, a reflection in a tarnished mirror of ordinary things like happiness, love and hope. But there were moments fleeting moments, lost in the responses of my body to his when it was almost enough. And God, I wanted, I wanted . These crumbs of bliss. My nails scratched at the desk, my breath a broken torrent.”

I prefer my sex without references to Plato, personally.

To end on a positive note I am going to leave you with the game of Nabble, a version of Scrabble in which you can not use words that actually exist.

“He was uncertain at first but soon he was nabbling like an old hand. First came glink (‘that like look what happens when two people are fancying each other from across the dance floor’), then gloffle (‘like when you put too much toffee in your mouf at once”), then mooshes (“ankle boots made out of crocodile levva wif pompoms hanging on ’em, big in New Zealand”), rapazzled (“off your head, obvs”), and quimpet (“like when hair extensions get all weird up at the top like what ‘appened to Britney”). And then, somehow, I got silly and offered up svlenky to describe the motion of his hips while dancing, to which he responded with flinkling, which was apparently what my brow did when I was coming up with something sarcastic to say. From there we moved through a few variations too ridiculous to be recorded. I foolishly formulated glimstruck as a representation of how it felt to be around him, and then we graduated to kissing, still fully clothed like a pair of teenagers on the wreckage of the Scrabble board.”

9 comments

  • I agree with much of what you say in the review – the good and bad bits, but wow for sheer joy and fun this book blew me away. I loved the high / low culture contrasts. I am with you LenaLena – this guy has got to keep writing.

    A minor quibble is that there is a direct Waugh quote used in the text without quotation marks. Though I guess Ash is channeling so much Waugh it is an easy mistake to make!

    A gorgeous and outrageous read. 😀

    Reply
  • I loved the book. To me it would have been less powerful without the author giving Darian the Essex speech patterns. I could hear Darian’s voice in my head and it was well good. I always find it odd when as (in this case) an English writer gets put down for using English slang or idioms. Those of us not in the USA often pick up works that are firmly centered in a particular area of that country. There are times I certainly had to look up words, phrases, slang etc but I have always regarded that as an opportunity to expand my knowledge. I enjoy books where I can hear the voice of the area coming though.
    I enjoyed the overachieving Ash who’s own mind has let him down. I think I might have met him or one very like at Uni. Darian because of his concern with his looks and model ambitions should be a self-centred narcissist but is one of the most giving and caring protagonist I have enjoyed reading for a while.
    By the way I am an English as a second language teacher (ESL) and I certainly would not underestimate my students.

    Reply
    • Darian needs the Essex speech patterns, he wouldn’t have been the same without. What I was objecting to was the phonetic spelling. I think the speech patterns would have had almost as much impact without the phonetic spelling. I am certainly not putting the author down for using English slang or idioms (I put down the New Oxford American Dictionary on my kindle for not knowing them, but that’s the one Amazon provided for my kindle. And, you know, maybe those words were spelled phonetically and the dictionary never stood a chance). Since this is a review, I needed to mention the phonetic spelling of the accent, because many people find that off-putting, and it is my job to let them know.

      FYI, I am ESL. Don’t let that little flag next to my name put you on the wrong foot. That just tells you where I am right now. A month ago it was showing the Dutch flag, because I was visiting my parents. I learned the Queen’s English in high school and grew up on both The A Team and Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Although 99% of what I’ve read in the last 20 years has been in English, and I have lived in the US for 14 years, it is not my mother tongue. Hardly ever do I run into the limitations of my English vocabulary, but this book made me wonder at times if my English just wasn’t good enough. So I do not think I am underestimating your ESL students. They are going to have trouble with words like ‘synaesthetic chiaroscuro’ I’m sure, but that is what the dictionary is for. It’s the words that they can’t look up, because they don’t know how they should be spelled that are going to give them the most problems. I have an internet friend in Indonesia who said she missed most of the conversation between Darian and his friends during the Essex Fashion Week, because she couldn’t figure out what they were saying. I had no problems with that bit, but other people did.

      Reply
      • As another ESL reader and reviewer – word of agreement to what you said. I mean my circumstances are different from yours, but I also had been living in the US for pretty much the same amount of time as you did. I read the books in English which are *much* more complex content wise than this book. I manage fine – no I do not know every single word, but sometimes I figure things out in context , sometimes I look it up in the dictionary. I just finished this book. I lost count of the how many times I had to stop and reread what Darian said to understand what he meant. I have no clue why the writer could not have let him say the same thing without spelling it phonetically. I mean most of those are simple words, really. I do not need dictionary for them, I just needed to see their correct spelling. OY.

        I got through, but it was painful. Ash’s voice appealed to me otherwise I would have given up.

        Reply
      • It’s the distinctive writing, the continuing mirror metaphor, the strong accent & slang, and particularly the “synaesthetic chiaroscuro” that struck me, and stuck with me long after I’d moved on to other books. (In fact, it was a web search for the phrase that led me to this review.) I loved the characters, especially Ash, and I could not only “hear” Darian’s voice, I could feel his brightness, especially in comparison to Ash. I cannot wait to read more by Alexis Hall. I do, however, hope readers of your review aren’t put off too much by the phonetically spelled issue. I agree the crisis between them was weak. But I think the book is still worth the read and not quite as bad as your review might indicate. This may not be a first choice for ESL readers but Anglophiles will adore it. Thanks for the reminder of Nabble. Must try that!

        Reply
  • I liked this book, and didn’t have the reservations Lena did. Like her, I loved the wit and the dialogue. There is quite a lot of British slang and cultural reference to add to the phonetic Essex accent, and I can see that for a non-British audience that could be rather distancing.

    Some of the issues Lena mentioned were things I put down to the character of Ash as first person narrator. His tendency to calibrate his emotions through literary reference and his over-emphasis on class seemed to me to be believable for a private school educated Oxbridge undergraduate with an affluent and socially narrow social circle – Ash’s illness and character combined have believably stopped him from moving on emotionally or socially in the 10 years since his Oxbridge days.

    I can also see Ash’s friendships lasting. Partly because of the first person narration we don’t get all of Ash’s attractive points spelt out (good looking, sexy, clever, successful, financially secure). I think it is believable that 10 years on he could still be part of a close-knit group of university friends. A lot of mentally ill people become socially isolated because they can’s spare the emotional energy necessary to sustain friendships, and even apart from his illness Ash can be a real shit, at least until he starts to learn better during the course of the book. But Ash has enough attractive qualities, and an on-going business relationship with one of the group, for him to believably be able to keep his old social anchors.

    I agree the run-up to the resolution of the plot does involve a cliché. But this is romance, and I make it a rule to accept one big, cliche’d plot point per book, and the working out of this one did for me pack the requisite emotional punch.

    This one is definitely in my favourites pile for this year.

    Reply
    • Allie, thank you for your long an thoughtful comment! I can see how the issues I had can be no problem for other people. I’m really glad you enjoyed it so much. I did enjoy most of it, which is why it did not end up at the bottom of the star range.

      Reply
  • Thanks for the review! I’d gone so far as to download a sample of this novel, but I hate it when authors deploy the Big Misunderstand (or its cousin, the Life-Changing Accident) and the phonetically written dialog would make me want to set my ereader on fire.
    Guess I’ll just wait for Hall’s next.

    Reply
    • Yes, if you are sensitive to phonetically written accents, do not even start this. It would drive you up the wall.

      Reply

Please comment! We'd love to hear from you.

%d bloggers like this: