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?
This blurb came from the author’s website.
**potential trigger warning if you are bothered by discussion/portrayal of mental illness and or attempted suicide you might want to stop reading this review now**
There has been a lot of discussion about Glitterland at least in my twitter feed so I had some pretty high expectations before I sat down and read it. I am glad to say that I think Glitterland lived up to the positive comments I noticed. I found myself moved by Ash’s journey as he ended up realizing that some things are worth striving for. This is written in the first person and if you are at all like me when it comes to having a few control tendencies about the state of your mind, you might find yourself disturbed and slightly uncomfortable with the writing style. Hall used not just the character interaction but the very thought patterns of Ash’s brain to deepen the flavor of his life. Ash is clinically depressed and experiences some manic highs and some extreme lows. The chapters are divided by time, but not time in the discrete orderly sense as in days, minutes, hours but of changes in Ash’s mental state. The times when Ash is in grey doldrums or a depression use very little page space but give the feeling of lasting for a very long time. The times when he is in a maniac high or is functioning well are given more physical space but also seem to move much faster. It was this complete distinction from how I account for the passage of time that both brought me into Ash’s viewpoint and caused me discomfort because it was so foreign. I ended up being very glad for the discomfort because it kept me from judging Ash on my thoughts of “normal” and let him stand on his own in his reality. Even now, days after I finished reading it, I find myself pausing in a slow moment and thinking about it which means not only did I enjoy the book while I was reading but it has made a lasting impression on me.
Even after accounting for the differences in Ash’s point of view, the other people in his life were not exactly the ones I expected to see. Each was offset a bit but together they provided the baseline of Ash’s normal. As such,they were also what he compared and judged himself by. I ended up with mixed thoughts about them. I initially liked Ash’s best friend Niall and then grew to almost detest him as I gained a deeper understanding of the role he played. Another, Amy, who was also Ash’s agent, I enjoyed through most of the book and thought that she was potentially the most centered of the group. I will admit I had my doubts about her initially. Her fiancee’ Max was also another character that I wasn’t too sure about but by the end of the book I enjoyed him as well. As I look back at my thoughts and feelings about Ash’s circle of friends, I find it fascinating how much his own thoughts and feelings about them appear to have colored my opinion. This was another example of how deeply I was sucked into his journey.
Given what qualified as Ash’s normal, the introduction of Darian provided quite a shock. I found Darian’s use of color and his flamboyant open nature combined with his joy in life like a hot fire on a cold dreary day. As the story progressed, he ended up being both a safe haven for Ash and a threat, sometimes all at the same time. He was a safe haven because he didn’t know Ash from before everything went spiraling down. Therefore he viewed Ash as an attractive man with some quirks and foibles instead of someone who had the world and lost it. And yes Darian was also a threat because he upset the status quo. Because he viewed Ash as normal he expected Ash to do normal things such as talk, cuddle, try something new, say what he wanted instead of passively accepting what came his way. From their very first encounter Ash didn’t want Darian to stop treating him as if he was normal so Ash did things.
“So, you need to get everyfing on this list. And make a salad to go wif it.” “Wait – what? You didn’t say anything about a salad!” “Later babes.”
I dashed to the internet to see if any of the local supermarkets had a slot open for same-day delivery. They didn’t.
Shit. Fuck. Wank. I was going to have to leave the house. Interact with people.
Not that thawing Ash was an easy pain-free process, just like re-warming a chilled body part can be painful at times so was the path of their relationship. I had the feeling that Ash was like a spring. He would stretch to a certain extent and then snap back, violently rejecting change and his feelings. Yet he couldn’t remain in the tight coil because he wanted that feeling Darian gave him so he would stretch back out again. Each time a little further and for a little longer but he also continued to recoil. During parts of the story when I could tell that Ash was really struggling I found myself almost holding my breath and urging him on because I didn’t know how much Darian was willing to tolerate. There was one particular scene that was extremely painful and I didn’t know how Ash or Darian would manage to recover from it and then I found out that the aftermath was even worse than I guessed. I had to reach for some tissues at that point but things eventually got better. I do need to thank Hall for providing a wonderful drawn out grovel that gave me hope again for the long-term success of the relationship.
Glitterland is brilliant, moving, disturbing and funny all at the same time. I gained a new appreciation for both how I view the world and how those with different viewpoints manage to navigate through it. I am also extremely curious about the portrayal of Essex and how that portrayal came about because it reminded me of tales of Greenwich Village or off-off-off Broadway, a place that I would love to people watch but wouldn’t quite fit in. Ash was a very complex character and I thought that Darian was a great counterpoint and much more patient then Ash almost deserved. Despite the Essex flamboyance and his chosen profession, Darian proved the more grounded of the two. He forced Ash to come out of his self-centered existence by simply expecting him to be more, yet Ash had to decide for himself if he was going to continue his painful stretch. Given the vivid characterization and the deft word choice in Glitterland I am certainly looking forward to the next story by Hall.
I give Glitterland an A+
BP Note: Don’t forget to check the previous post to see what Hall has to say and for a chance to enter a giveaway.