September 2, 2013

Review: Glitterland by Alexis Hall

Source: a review copy was provided by the publisher through NetGalley.

Alexis Hall is a debut author whose book has been getting a lot of publicity and critical acclaim, which made me curious to read it and see if the reviews were right. Unfortunately, the book didn't live up to the expectations.

Our main character and narrator is Ash, a bipolar, clinically depressed writer who is struggling with his illness and his career.

Ash meets Darian at a friend’s bachelor party. He manages to be equally drawn and repulsed by Darian who, with his thick accent and flamboyant appearance, embodies the stereotype of the Essex boy. But we know these two are meant to be together, because after they have sex Ash feels calm and is able to sleep, something he hasn’t felt or been able to do in a while. But other than that, Ash continues to judge and make fun of Darian even when the latter is clearly hurt by it. But this is a Romance, so we know they will eventually make it work, even if it is just because the rules of the genre say they must.

The writing style is overly embellished and forced. It’s hard to separate the author’s voice from the character’s, but even if it’s all Ash, the writing is either trying too hard to be beautiful or incredibly pretentious. Unfortunately, it only succeeds at being purple.

“His skin was as smooth as the hidden interior of a shell and as supple as velvet as it flowed over the taut muscles of his back.”

“I flipped onto my stomach, and he covered me like sunlight in a rush of warm skin.”

“And then I remembered: the sharp silver nothing of the knife as it glided down my forearm like a tall ship with a scarlet wake.”

“My skin, at least, remembered the softness. Like a kiss from a ghost.”

Those are all random quotes, and they do fit the character, so, distracting as it was, it gets a few points for effort.

The book is also a character study, so Ash is front and center all the time. The use of the first person narrator is incredibly effective and perfectly conveys Ash’s state of mind. He isn't a likeable character, but he is certainly complex and layered, which makes him interesting. I'm not equipped to speak about its authenticity, but the portrayal of Ash's mental health felt raw and real. Also, his mental illness isn't used to excuse his attitude, and finding love doesn't automatically cure him. I wasn't surprised by any of this because the attention and care put into making Ash a nuanced character was obvious.

I had a lot of issues with the treatment and portrayal of Darian. This guy is over the top from the way he talks to the way he dresses. Everything about him is designed to be judged and found lacking. And that’s exactly what Ash does. It’s not enough to use him for sex and then discard him, but when they get together again, Ash keeps reducing Darian to the traits he finds more offensive and refuses to call him by his name and instead refers to him as Essex. But this is somewhat excusable because Ash isn't a good person, and the class issues run deep between the two of them. But by making Darian perfect (his default moods are either incredibly cheery or somewhat hurt, and he’s kind, open, sincere and possesses a childlike innocence that is more than a little disturbing) his appearance and accent become his only negative traits. It’s not just Ash who sees something wrong in Darian, the narrative sees it too. Not only that, but by making the accent so exaggerated and hard to read, the text forces the reader to judge and be annoyed by it.

Ash and Darian are opposites who (for some reason I can’t fathom, because Ash doesn't have that many redeeming qualities) are attracted to each other and ultimately fall in love. There’s a social and cultural barrier separating them, and crossing it is the way to their HEA. This is a story about finding value within a person despite what they look like. But considering that Darian’s accent and clothes are cultural and social expressions and an integral part of who he is, finding value despite those things sounds like a shitty message. It should be finding value in those aspects, and about not being so judgmental and classist. I didn't feel like the class issues were properly addressed, thus making it impossible for me to believe in their happy ending.

The secondary characters are another mixed bag. Niall is Ash’s best friend. They are occasional lovers and it’s made clear that Niall is only with Ash out of heartbreak (because the love of his life is about to marry someone else) and out of guilt (because Ash once tried to kill himself). It’s a complicated relationship that had uncomfortable undertones, because it’s fairly obvious that what’s keeping Niall from leaving are pity, worry and guilt. I actually thought this was the most compelling relationship in the book.

Amy is Ash’s editor and the woman Niall’s ex is about to marry. She is so very, very nice, that she will even tell you:

 “It’s, well, it’s about Niall. I mean, trying to shag Max on his stag night was kind of not okay with me. But, equally, I know you guys all go way back, and I don’t want to be some kind of evil-bitch, straight-girl stereotype.”

We know M/M Romance has issues with its portrayal of women, so what better way to show self-awareness than by making a joke about it, right? And in the meantime, let’s strip the most prominent female character of any personality traits that aren't being extremely nice and understanding, even when someone else tries to fuck her fiancĂ© at his bachelor party.

The one thing these characters have in common is that they have a condescending attitude toward Ash because of his mental illness. They are patronizing and let him get away with a lot of crap and bad attitude because he is bipolar. There was a lot of pity and not enough love. I wold have liked to at least see all these relationship more developed and explored, because as they were they felt frustrating and wrong.

The book had its moments of almost brilliancy in which the author’s talent and potential shined through. But it was also a distracting, overwritten mess.

And in case someone was wondering, the word “glitter” (including variations like “glittering” and “glittered”) appears 34 times.

Review by Brie
Grade: 2
Sensuality: McSexy
Purchase: Directly form the publisher because the e-book isn't available on Amazon. Here's the Amazon link.

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?
Glitterland by Alexis Hall
Riptide. August 26, 2013.


  1. LOL Brie - tell me what you really think! :D

    We have chatted by email about this one so you already know what I think, as I already knew what you thought, but I did appreciate reading the review as a complete package. And, while I liked the book much better than you did, I can see where you're coming from.

    I described the prose as "ornate" and you described it as "purple" so that might be a "tomato" "tomahto" thing I suppose, but I was really interested in this bit:

    But considering that Darian’s accent and clothes are cultural and social expressions and an integral part of who he is, finding value despite those things sounds like a shitty message. It should be finding value in those aspects, and about not being so judgmental and classist.

    My take on that was slightly different. I thought it was about looking beyond the surface to what was important and real - and in the end, I thought that Ash did stop being judgemental. But then, I suspect Ash and I have snobbery in common so maybe that's why I was more inclined to be forgiving.

    For myself, those surface things don't become valuable in and of themselves necessarily, but they become unimportant. I kind of likened it to dating a guy who's not very good looking. After a while, if he's a good guy, maybe the right guy, it isn't so much that he becomes more handsome but that you don't see/focus on the surface as much as what's underneath and the person you've come to know and after a while those outward features are reminders of the person one loves and so they become precious. Or something.

    Not that I'd know anything about that of course. My husband is GORGEOUS!!

    air kisses,
    Your (evil) book twin

  2. But here’s the thing: the way we look, dress and talk *are* important. They say things about who we are as individuals, about our history and about our culture. We judge because there’s an oppressive system at work that deems them below us, unimportant, trashy, reflections of an uneducated community, etc. But none of those things are true. Our personalities may be unique, but they don’t exist in a vacuum and have been influenced not just by those external cultural and social elements, but by the way others in a position of power judge and interpret them. So saying that yes, the Essex dialect is awful and grating, that the people from Essex are materialistic, trashy, uneducated (and by making the one Essex character not “the crispest lettuce in the fridge” implying that they are also stupid), but that all those things don’t matter because ultimately these people can be loving and caring, you’re doing nothing but justifying (and perpetuating) your own snobbery. And that’s exactly what this book is doing (and I mean the book, not just the main character). Worse, it takes it even further by trying to force the reader into judgmental snobs. To me, the whole thing was just an offensive mess.

    We had two completely different reactions to the book, which is perfectly fine and I don't want you to feel like I'm saying yours was wrong. But, yeah, not the book for me.

  3. I didn't read it the same way you did obviously. Because I thought the book took the stereotype and then showed why it was inaccurate. My reading is only one interpretation of course and I'm sure you're not the only one who read it the way you did. I grew up in a "bogan" suburb and I'm very familiar with the kind of stereotype we're talking about, well, the Australian version of it anyway. But yeah, this book isn't for everyone. :)

    1. Our interpretations were the complete opposites. I thought the book took the stereotype, showed it as accurate and then proceeded to say that despite it, the guy still had value.

  4. I don't want to comment directly on the book because DA overlap and all that, but I find sociological issues of language fascinating; it’s something I teach and have done research on. The thing about accents is that invoking them is inherently loaded with normative implications, because we distinguish among "good" and "bad" accents in many cultures (we certainly do that in the US and UK). In the US, a French accent that is difficult to understand will be considered charming, whereas a Mexican-Spanish one will often be denigrated. In the UK, accents have historically marked your region of origin and your class status, usually to locate you in the social hierarchy.

    In a novel, if everyone's accents are rendered phonetically, that’s one thing. But if one region’s characters’ accents are rendered phonetically and other characters are not, then it sets up a situation where the region’s characters are the oddballs and the other characters (who are all “posh” in this book, I think) are the default. When the oddballs are also viewed as inferior in some way (in real life and/or in the novel), the fact that the reader has to keep working to understand their words creates a barrier between the reader and the character that isn’t there for the default-accent characters.

    When authors choose to start with an accent or dialect but then switch to the same treatment for all the characters, it both reduces the work the reader has to do (thus reducing distance) and “normalizes” the characters, making them less different (in good or bad ways). And in real life, when you spend a lot of time with someone, you generally stop noticing the things that initially struck you as different. They’re just who they are.

    1. I typed a longass comment and it got eaten because WordPress hates me. *sigh* Try again. I'm sure I was more articulate the first time!

      I hope everyone knows I'm not here to defend the book but just to have a discussion. I liked it but that's just one reaction among many and it's not a crime to not like a book just like it's not a crime to like one.

      I know some people had trouble reading Darian's accent. I didn't and I expect that was part of why the book worked better for me. I think the "default" here was understandable in that the book was told from Ash's first person POV and he's "posh" and a bit of an arsehole frankly.

      I do think that by the end Ash thought very fondly rather than disparagingly about Darian's accent. But that's my take from the perspective of liking the book. For me as reader though, I also felt it was a way for me to not be able to pretend Darian accent was anything other than what it was. I could react to it in any number of ways, but I didn't feel the text allowed me to ignore it.

      To use another book as an example of what I mean, I read New Life by Bonnie Dee a while back. The hero was brain injured and the whole story was informed by this really. It was an important part of the story, an integral part of the hero's characterisation. At first, his dialogue included lots of stutters and elipses to show that he had to search for words, stuttered and spoke slowly. While I found it distracting to read (I'm contrary) it also gave me a visual cue to remind me of the character. When, later in the book, those cues dropped off significantly, I found myself forgetting the character was brain injured. It made the book easier to read but I kept being jarred into remembering he wasn't fully functional. (I don't mean that in an ableist way; he had functional deficits as a result of his brain injury).

      The thing is, if that hero were a real person, anyone dealing with him in real life, no matter whether they loved him or not, would know he had a brain deficit just from talking to him. It might be something you notice less as time goes by but the deficit isn't going to disappear. Now, Darian's accent was a different kettle of fish because his accent wasn't a "deficit" but, to me, that's what he sounds like. If he were a real person, that's what my ears would hear. It doesn't mean he's stupid or anything else. That's just his accent. It doesn't go away because you get to know someone well. You might notice it less in the same way you notice his orange tan less, because you (well, me) would be focusing more on the person but it doesn't mean the accent changes. I mean, Jamie Fraser is always going to have a Scottish accent no matter how long you read about him. If GL were a TV show or a movie, Darian would talk like that the whole way through. So I didnt' have any issue with the accent being consistently rendered throughout the book. Again, my personal opinion, not gospel or anything.

      It may say something about me as a reader but characters tend to get somewhat homogenised in my head when I'm reading and cues such as accents and the like help me quite a bit to differentiate people. It is probably one of the reasons that "Ochlassieland" books generally bother me less than others - "canna" "willna" and "dinna ken" tend to help me remember the character is not either British or midwest American which are the standard two accents my brain defaults to depending on the book. It may be why I enjoy audiobooks so much. I think New Life would have worked really well on audio because those cues would be (if well narrated) more consistently obvious.

      Sorry for the ramble. This language stuff fascinates.

    2. No, of course I don't think of you as defending the book against the hordes. ;) I wouldn't have commented if I thought that; to the contrary, I thought you guys were having a really interesting conversation so I couldn't help myself.

      Your reaction to the accent issue is really interesting to me and I appreciate your laying it out clearly because it's very different from mine and helps me understand a different POV.

      Just to add to my comment, not really to argue: I agree that Ash was posh and as the narrator his POV is the default. But his accent *could* have been described with phonetic spelling too. When you stop and think about it, there is no "default," especially in a novel. We all read with our own accents unless we are forced by the author to read differently. That was more my point, that Ash is not only the POV character but he becomes *our* default.

      I think the fact that you found the accent relatively easy to read meant that you didn't experience as much distance from the character as readers who had a harder time. Although clearly some of them related to the character in the same way as you, so it's not just that.

      And your point about audiobooks is spot on. Narrators contextualize characters through the way they depict them. There are books that I can't separate in my mind's ear from the narrators now.

    3. Re. Audiobooks: one of the reasons why I don't listen to them is because I don't like someone else interpreting the characters for me.

      I will be back to comment at length tomorrow!

  5. Also, by "British" above, I meant "English". Because Britain includes Scotland of course. *rolls eyes at self*

  6. @Sunita Thx for expanding on your thoughts, I understand them better now. :)

    My "default" English accent tends to be the Hugh Grant/Colin Firth (ie posh) accent anyway so I read every English character that way unless specifically told otherwise.

    There is a Lisa Kleypas where the hero is a cockney type (that isn't really an dialect as such but I think you know what I mean by it). I listened on audio so I can't be sure but I think there were textual references in the print version. I know I would have needed them or otherwise I would have naturally switched him to my default.

    One example where accent and dialect were done, I thought, seamlessly and really accessibly was Annique's POV scenes in The Spymaster's Lady (Joanna Bourne). The way the prose was written she always sounded French in my head.

    I grew up in an area where there was a lot of UK migration in the 50s and 60s so the various UK accents seem familiar to me. Maybe that's why I found it more accessible? At least in part? I think the Australian accent is closer to English, certainly the South Australian accent, than a US accent too so that might be some of it.

    It's funny but when I'm listening to an audiobook with an Australian narrator I'm so attuned to expecting either a British or midwest US accent that our accent jars - even though the Aussie accent is my own and one I hear everyday. It says something about the influence on me of US pop culture I think. :)

  7. Interesting review and discussion. Brie- I think I fall somewhere between you and Kaetrin in terms of liking this book. You got me to think more about Darian - I agree that Darian's character is too perfect - he's kind of the Essex boy equivelant of a manic pixie dream girl, not his personality really, but his function. His character seems to exist just to help our protagonist grow up and become a better person. The class stuff you mention didn't hit me the same way, although I see your point.

    @ Sunita and Kaetrin - interesting thoughts about written dialect. I have to confess that I have a terrible ear for accents and I'm never sure how phonetic spellings are supposed to sound, so everything I read sounds like midwestern American in my head. I find dialect distracting so I just sort of ignore it, just like I ignore weirdly spelled names in fantasy.


  8. Cleo: Yes! I never saw it that way, but you're right. He's a manic pixie dream boy. Except that Ash is repulsed by his appearance instead of charmed by it. But Darian's personality and role in the story do fit the archetype.


Blogger likes to eat comments, so I suggest copying it before hitting "publish" just in case it doesn't go through the first time. This is a pain, I know, but it's the only solution/prevision I can think of, and it will save you the frustration of losing a comment. Also, thanks for visiting!

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...

FTC Disclaimer

The books reviewed here were purchased by us. If the book was provided by the author or publisher for review, it will be noted on the post. We do not get any type of monetary compensation from publishers or authors.