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The Daily Cardinal Est. 1892
Friday, May 17, 2024

'Glister' lost in language

There is a lot of talk about connection and unity in John Burnside's ""The Glister,"" but ultimately the plethora of quasi-intriguing themes are never fully developed, leaving the reader with too many superfluous passages, unoriginal plot elements,  linguistic nuances and an overall sense of vagueness as the author becomes engrossed in his own manipulation of language, neglecting clarity along the way.

The initial ideas behind the novel have potential: A condemned chemical plant literally and figuratively leaching toxicity, several unexplained disappearances of teenage boys and inexplicable diseases that kill sans discretion. There are interesting analysis-inciting themes/motifs as well, with extreme religious overtones throughout the piece overtly manifested in the division of the book into two sections: ‘The Book of Job' and ‘The Fire Sermon,' as well as topical discussions on sacrifice, the killing of innocents, resurrection and forgiveness. Among the others, Burnside starts investigating emasculation and gender relations, justice, connection/unity and death.

From the beginning, this novel proves frustrating, as the writing is literally poisoned with overused metaphors and typical plot characters and settings. It describes the sad state of a city divided into Innertown and Outertown, relating events of a dismal and failing small industrial town laden with suppressed, wronged workers. This commonplace setting becomes increasingly moreso with the addition of overused plot elements: ""white-collar"" versus ""blue-collar,"" political agendas, corruption, the evil rich businessman (Brian Smith), the incompetent and foundering policeman (John Morrison), and angsty teenagers in rebellion.

As far as language is concerned, the policeman and the businessman go on and on, using tired metaphors and stale images intended to make their thoughts and struggles seem more profound, but instead they leave the prose ponderous, plodding and entirely overworked.

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At this point in this story, though, the novel takes an upward turn as Burnside introduces his main character, Leonard Wilson. The writing improves tremendously with less unnecessary rumination while the captivating, snarky cynicism of the boy drives the story. The reader begins to feel partially integrated into the social strata of the town through Wilson's description and participation in it. Interest subsides, however, with the addition of new characters such as the librarian, Wilson's fellatio-crazed girlfriend and a gang of disturbing teenagers. The prose again becomes un-engaging and weighted down with over-exposition, trying too hard to create memorable lines and thought processes.

At some points, the names of certain characters (Wilson, for example) and details about their lives are withheld until an irritating amount of time has passed, so the lack of knowledge is not suspenseful but exasperating. Also, the portrayal of the teenagers is altogether too stylized (lots of sex and obsession with death), and they come off as overly angst-ridden, playing character types instead of individual people.

Overall, a considerable portion of the novel's cogitation could be cut out, since much of it is redundant meditations on the same ideas simply paraphrased in order to facilitate some conceptualization of apparent mental transcendence. This excess makes the text very skim-able, which is ultimately not conducive for relating themes to the reader, leaving those themes haphazardly presented and immature.


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