Ned Beauman’s “Glow” is the second story in Granta 123: Best of Young British Novelists 4. For an overview of the issue and links to my reviews of its other stories, please click here.
At 28, Ned Beauman is the youngest author on this Granta list of Best Young British Novelists, which means he’ll be eligible for the next list when it comes out in a decade. Beauman is obviously talented and fortunate; Boxer, Beetle won the Goldberg Prize for Outstanding Debut Fiction and The Writers’ Guild Award for Best Fiction Book, and The Teleportation Accident was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize. Talented and fortunate, though not having read either novel it’s impossible for me to speculate whether he’s more talented than fortunate or more fortunate than talented. It’s been obvious that Beauman himself believes he is much more talented than fortunate, perhaps too talented to be gracious at all, in fact. It will be interesting to see if Beauman shot himself in the foot last year when he said this in an interview with The Guardian (here):
Boxer, Beetle got a lot of praise and a little bit of criticism. But what seems to stick in my mind is praise from the wrong people. Obviously this is incredibly elitist and snobbish, but then that’s my prerogative as a novelist. The people who wrote four-star Amazon reviews were almost more annoying than the one- or two-star reviews, because of the way they looked at the book . . . I wanted to take all the caveats they had and really emphasise those things, to slough off as many of them as possible.
Even if that quote weren’t enough, his attitude toward his readers is dismal, even those who praised his work. From anecdotes, I’ve heard he’s gone so far as to be one of those atrocious authors who writes complaints to reviewers who are either “the wrong people” or who liked his books for the wrong reasons. Consequently, when his name was announced on this Granta list, there was quite a bit of backlash. At this point in his career, it appears his books haven’t spoken louder than he has.
“Glow” is an excerpt of his forthcoming novel (also entitled Glow). Where Shamsie’s excerpt “Vipers” was effective as a short piece and as an excerpt, making me anxious to read the novel, Beauman’s excerpt felt absolutely pointless. It made me wonder if we readers are simply supposed to appreciate anything these authors deigned to submit to Granta.
Apparently the new novel takes place in 2010, and this excerpt is actually a flashback to 2007, included in the novel to give us a bit of backstory to one of the characters. Beauman chose it because “it has a beginning, middle and end, like a short story” (here). Okay, but it has little else. It falls terrifically short of a short story and in no way entices me to read the novel. Obviously, these novelists have little choice but to submit something on hand, a fragment — I understand it, but I don’t always like the results.
As it stands here, outside of the context of the remainder of the novel, “Glow” is about a doomed love triangle, and incidentally a new drug is invented (probably much more important in the novel). “Glow” opens one night in 2007 when our central character Win walks into a bar and meets a “white guy.” They chat for a while. The man’s name is Craig. Win debates whether to go back to the man’s hotel room, but he does. We learn that one reason Win is hesitant to sleep with Craig is because Win is a kind of toy for his boss, Hseng. And blah blah blah — we’ve all read about these lopsided love triangles before. This one plays out as you’d expect.
What we might not expect is that this love triangle leads to the invention of a new drug: glo. What we don’t get here is why any of that matters — not even why any of it might some day matter enough for us to seek out this novel — so I won’t speculate.
The drug does lead — or, rather, Win’s ability with chemistry leads — to some of the more unique passages in the book, though, and I imagine it’s for these passages that we have this excerpt: we are to admire Beauman’s voice and Beauman’s sentences. Here’s an example from just after Win and Craig’s first sexual encounter:
Afterwards, as Win lay dreamy and exhausted, Craig got up and started rummaging through his suitcase. Even though the windows were wide open, the air in the room was still fuggy and ammoniac, as if within the valvular manifold of their connected bodies they had synthesized a molecule so complex it couldn’t filter out through the mosquito screens.
Whether you find that lyrical or overdone is a matter of taste, but the rest of the story feels like a lengthy yet under-developed diversion — which makes me wonder if the entire piece will actually make it into the novel.