The Glass Kingdom

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Read 12/09/2016

Rating: 4 stars

Read for The Reader’s Room Olympic Challenge

I bought this book because I wanted to read something by someone I’d never heard of. It sounded like it might be grimly funny, in the mould of Chuck Pahlaniuk or Irvine Welsh. It also sounded very, very male, and very, very male books both fascinate and confuse me.

The two main characters run a sideshow stall in a travelling carnival. Ben is ex-army and trying to make money dealing meth. Mikey is a wannabe rapper, inclined to fight and supremely interested in women. He’s a bit of a caricature, but engagingly so. Ben is the more sober of the pair, the man with an actual game plan.

I liked Flynn’s writing style. Short, punchy sentences that captured the rhythms of speech. He has a good eye for detail, describing the hopelessness of unemployment and poverty in small town Australia and the grind of eking out a living as part of a carnival. Flynn created a similar atmosphere of desperation and resignation to that in Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love (also set in carnival land).

The book isn’t that macho. It’s male in that the main characters are men and they mostly settle things by fighting, but they’re not lugs. Some of the scenes made me think of Sexy Beast.

Ben has flashbacks to the military action he saw in Afghanistan. Flynn pulls no punches in describing the result of a roadside bomb that flattened Ben’s unit’s Humvees or the injuries and fatalities it caused. I didn’t agree with Ben’s choice of post-military business, but I understood the reasons he chose it. I felt a lot of sympathy for him and found myself firmly on his side, despite most of his actions.

Mikey, in comparison, is a bit of a twat. He attracts trouble with his mouth, and regularly has to be rescued from fights by Ben. After one particularly brutal altercation, Mikey repays Ben by running off with his cash stash. And so begins an unplanned road trip through the underside of Australia. Mikey makes some spectacular errors on his trip. His story is told in an almost The Sound And The Fury style. It’s almost stream of consciousness, chaotic and nonsensical, but it’s more him trying to talk the talk and then panicking when walking the walk goes haywire.

My favourite moment in the book is when Ben is having to share his ute with his girlfriend Steph because Mikey stole her car. Steph, as is the way with us women, can’t resist analysing their relationship and why it works. Ben’s reaction made me laugh, because I recognised every man I’ve ever known in it.

I learned a long time ago not to question Steph’s beliefs, even if I did think they were misguided. I usually just let her ramble on. It was easier that way. Less hassle. No point in picking a fight I couldn’t win.

This was a cracking read. Maybe I’ve read too many violent novels set in some kind of underworld, but I didn’t find it so sick or look-away-violent. It was a peek into a world with which I’m gladly not familiar, and had enough humour and smarts to leaven the violence.

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