‘Too bland and too safe’ – Barbarians by Tim Glencross

btgAre you in with the Hampstead set? Been invited to Nigella’s recently for dinner, or round the Saatchi brothers’ to chew the fat over drinks, and talk art and politics? No, me neither. But if you had been, you’d know that you wouldn’t be rubbing shoulders with Postman Pat, or the guy who runs the local chippy. Here you’d find pundits, trend-setters and opinion-makers, artists, designers and other zeitgeisty types, and maybe a junior minister or two; rising stars in the Westminster village.

The opening chapters are given to just such characters, and just such a scene. Indeed, beyond the necessary name-dropping to orientate the reader, the author keeps on spinning that wheel; it quickly begins to grate. And that response could resonate, because if one is not natively excited by the esoteric backdrop, the opening chapters are in real danger of not delivering enough bite. Sure, the first rounds of a potential love triangle are fired, but even that seems strangely pedestrian; lacking in spice.

The novel purports to tell the story of the New Labour era, of capitalism in crisis – undoubtedly, a rich vein to tap – but the characters are so blanched white; not in a racial sense, (one of the main characters is black), but in terms of their exclusive socio-economic status, which gives them – all of them – a frustratingly uniform perspective. And this weakens the novel, for without such silly concerns like life or death, illness, sanity, money, violence or abuse, it leaves the main character – an aspiring poet – to drift for far too long, with nothing to be fixated on beyond the travails of love (or lack thereof). And thus despite the story being nicely written and the characters being well drawn, there is a distinct lack of tension in the opening act.

To compound matters, there were other features that annoyed: our main character, the twenty-four-year-old damsel-poet with connected friends, somehow being thrown onto a dance floor to partner a man who could only be described as ‘Christian Grey’. Characters who should’ve, by the law of averages, had several degrees of separation between them, being neatly tied together. That the necessary backstory wasn’t always delivered in a smooth, transparent way… There were simply too many bumps in the fledgling story, jolting the reader out of the moment.

Any Cop?: Despite the momentum and tension eventually building, this novel was too bland and too safe, for far too long.


Tamim Sadikali


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