The Glister: A Novel

The Glister: A Novel

by John Burnside

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780385529495
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 03/10/2009
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 240
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

John Burnside is the author of the novel The Devil's Footprints, the memoir A Lie About My Father, as well as five additional works of fiction and eleven collections of poetry published in the United Kingdom. The Asylum Dance won the Whitbread Poetry Award, The Light Trap was short-listed for the T.S. Eliot Prize, and A Lie About My Father won the two biggest Scottish literary prizes: the Scottish Arts Council Non-Fiction Book of the Year Award and the Saltire Society Scottish Book of the Year Award.


From the Trade Paperback edition.

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HOMELAND

In the beginning, John Morrison is working in his garden. Not the garden at the police house, which he has long neglected, and not the allotment he rented when he was first married, but the real garden, the only garden, the one he likes to think of as a shrine. A sacred place, like the garden in a medieval Resurrection. To anyone else, it would look like nothing more than a patch of flowers and baubles, set out in a clearing amid the poison wood, just above the old freight line; but then nobody else could ever see its significance. Morrison created this garden himself and he has maintained it for seven years: a neat square of poppies and carnations, dotted here and there with the knuckles of polished glass and stone that he collects on his long walks around the Innertown and the wasteland beyond, filling the pockets of his police uniform with worthless treasure as he pretends to go about his duties. Of course, these days, he has no real duties, or none he could ever believe in. Brian Smith saw to that, years ago, when Morrison made the one big mistake of his career--the one big mistake of his life, other than marriage.

That was the day when Smith talked him into concealing the first of the Innertown disappearances. Now, with five boys missing, Morrison is almost ashamed to show his face on the street. Not that anybody knows about the lie, the confidence trick, that he has perpetrated upon them all. People want to know where the Innertown children have gone, but aside from the families of the missing boys, nobody expects anything much from him. They know he doesn't have the training or the resources to track the boys down, and they also know that nobody beyond their poisoned tract of industrial ruin and coastal scrub cares a whit about what happens to the Innertown's children. Even the families give up after a while, sinking into mute bewilderment, or some sad regime of apathy and British sherry. After more than a decade of dwindling hopes for their town and for their children, people have become fatalistic, trying to find, in indifference, the refuge they once sought in the modest and mostly rather vague expectation of ordinary happiness that they were brought up to expect. Some choose to believe, or to say they believe, the official line--the line Morrison himself puts out, with more than a little help from Brian Smith. In this version of events, a story full of convenient and improbable coincidences, each of the boys left the Innertown of his own accord, independently and without speaking a word to anyone, to try his luck in the big wide world. Some say this story is credible, boys being boys. Others say it is far-fetched, that it seems most unlikely that all five of these bright children, boys in their mid-teens with families and friends, would wander off suddenly, and without warning. Among this group, there are those who say that the boys have, in fact, been murdered, and that they are probably buried somewhere in the ruins of the old chemical plant between the Innertown and the sea, where their mutilated bodies will decay quickly, leaving no trace that could be distinguished from the dead animals and anonymous offal that people find out there all the time. This latter group gets restless on occasion, usually just after a new disappearance. They demand a full investigation, they want independent outsiders to come in and conduct an official inquiry. They write letters; they make phone calls. Nothing happens.

Mostly, however, the town goes about its business; though, these days, it would seem that its sole business is slow decay. Of course, Morrison's business is to walk his beat, make himself visible, try to suggest that law and order means something in the Innertown. This is his function, to be seen--but Morrison hates to be seen, he wants to be invisible, he wants, more than anything, to disappear, and on this warm Saturday afternoon in late July, he is out at his secret garden, weeding and clearing so the few flowers he planted in the spring might not be smothered by grass and nettles. To begin with, this makeshift shrine had been dedicated to Mark Wilkinson, the first boy to disappear--the one that Morrison had, in fact, found. Later, though, it became more generic, a memorial to all the lost boys, wherever they might be. Nobody else knows about this garden, and Morrison always feels nervous coming out here, afraid of being caught out, afraid someone will guess what all this means. The shrine is fairly well concealed, because the event it commemorates happened, as such things must, in this hidden place, or somewhere nearby at least. Once, he found the little garden kicked apart and trampled, the flowers uprooted, the glass and stones scattered far and wide, but he guessed right away that this was nothing more than the usual vandalism. Some kids from the Innertown had come across his handiwork and smashed it without even thinking, in the routine way that kids from the Innertown have in everything they do, but Morrison is fairly sure that they hadn't realized what the shrine meant, and he simply built it up again, plant by plant, pebble by pebble, till it was, if anything, better than before. Whenever he can, he comes out here to maintain it. When yet another boy vanishes into the night, he extends it a little, adding new plants, new heaps of sand-polished glass and stone.

He finds the best stones on Stargell's Point, his favorite place nowadays, because nobody else ever goes there. Even the kids avoid it. Everybody understands, by now, that the entire land under their feet is irredeemably soured, poisoned by years of runoff and soakaway from the plant, but in most areas nobody quite knows the extent of that souring--whereas Stargell's Point was always recognized as a black spot, even back in the good old days, when the people believed, through sheer force of will, that the chemical plant was essentially safe. They believed, of course, because they had to believe: the Innertown's economy depended almost entirely upon the chemical industry. More to the point, there were people in the Outertown, up in the big houses, who had an interest in ensuring that things ticked over without too much fuss. The Innertown folk, the ones who actually worked at the plant, had from the outset been made aware of the appropriate precautions to be taken while going about their duties, but they had always been told--by the Consortium, by the safety people, by all the powers that be--that the danger was minimal. They had wanted to believe they were safe because there was nowhere else for them to go, and they had wanted to trust the managers and politicians because there was nobody else for them to trust. Naturally, they worked hard on being convinced. In the early days, some of them even smuggled home bags of the stuff they were making out at the plant so they could spread it on their gardens. It was an act of faith, utterly perverse and so, they hoped, all the more powerful.

Later, when it was too late, they began to see what was really going on. They heard the rumors about bribery in high places and anonymous death threats against potential whistle-blowers, they heard how the Consortium had influential contacts within the supposedly independent firms charged with the care and safety of the plant's workforce, but they hadn't known what to do about it. A few years after Morrison left school, the plant had finally been shut down, but its ruins were still standing out on the headland, all around the east side of the Innertown, acres and acres of dead real estate, running from the gutted administration buildings at the junction of East Road and Charity Street, through a series of vast, echoey kilns, warehouses, waste-processing units, and derelict production blocks, all the way to the loading docks on the shore, where great tankers rusted beside the slick, greasy waters of the firth. You could see evidence wherever you looked of the plant's effects on the land: avenues of dead trees, black and skeletal along the old rail tracks and access roads; great piles of sulfurous rocks where pools of effluent had been left to evaporate in the sun. A few keen fishermen found mutant sea creatures washed up on the shore, where those great boats had once been loaded with thousands and thousands of drums of who knew what, and some people claimed that they had seen bizarre animals out in the remaining tracts of woodland, not sick, or dying, but not right either, with their enlarged faces and swollen, twisted bodies.

The most convincing evidence that some evil was being perpetrated on the headland, however, was the fact that, for as long as the plant had existed, the people themselves had not been right. Suddenly, there were unexplained clusters of rare cancers. Children contracted terrible diseases, or they developed mysterious behavioral problems. There was more than the usual share of exotic or untreatable illnesses, a sudden and huge increase in depression, a blossoming of what, in the old days, would have been called madness. Morrison's own wife had got sick in the head and, even now, nobody was able to say what was wrong with her. She drank, was the cruelest explanation, but she had been a drinker in her younger days and she had been fit as a fiddle back then.

Now, everybody blames these problems on the plant, but they don't have the energy to do anything about it. The plant had been their livelihood; it had been their best hope. Everyone knew its history, in the official version at least. People could tell you how, thirty years ago, a consortium--it had a fancy name, but it was always referred to, simply, as the Consortium--a local and international consortium of agricultural and other companies, started making various products there, but nobody remembers, now, and it seems that nobody really knew back then exactly what chemicals were manufactured, or what they were used for. Morrison's father, James, had worked at the plant, and he would insist that it was all harmless agricultural material: fertilizers and pesticides, fungicides, growth accelerants or growth retardants, complicated chains of molecules that got into the root or the stem of a plant and changed how it grew, or when it flowered, or whether it set seed. Other people said it was more sinister than that: maybe the bulk of what they processed out on the headland was innocent enough, but there were special facilities, hidden deep inside the plant, where they made, or stored, chemical weapons. After all, they would argue, it doesn't take much to change one substance into another; break a chain of molecules here, add an extra chain there, and what had been a mildly dangerous herbicide became a weapon of war; alter the temperature, or the structure, or the pressure, and stuff that you had once bought over the counter in the local hardware shop was transformed into a battlefield poison. To this day, they would claim, there are sealed buildings that nobody, not even the safety inspectors, was ever allowed to enter.

After a while, when the children started to vanish, new theories were put forward. The boys had stumbled into one of those secret facilities and been consumed by a cloud of lethal gas; or they had been taken away for tests, either by top-secret government scientists, or by aliens, who had been observing the plant for decades. Morrison has always known that this is all pointless speculation, of course, because he knows the truth about the disappearances. Or rather, he knows the truth in one case because, on a cold autumn night seven years ago, it was his bad luck to find Mark Wilkinson suspended from a tree, a few yards from the spot where he now stands. A few yards, no more, from this raggedy patch of garden flowers and colored glass where he lingers beside a phantom grave, trying to think of something to say. It isn't prayer he intends, on these visits, so much as some form of communion: he wants, not to send Mark's soul into some happy otherness, but to hold it back long enough for the boy to understand and, so, forgive.

Morrison was never very much convinced by the idea, taught to him in Sunday school, that forgiveness comes from God; he could never see why God needed to forgive us our trespasses, when He was the one who made us how we are. Even as a boy, however, he had believed in the forgiveness of the dead. When he was little, his mother would take him on Sunday walks to the cemetery on the West Side of the Innertown, not far from where the better-off people lived. James Morrison wouldn't come, he'd always be too busy, but his wife would lead young John and his little sister out to the Innertown cemetery, and all three would sit down on one of the benches dressed in their Sunday best to enjoy a picnic lunch by their grandmother's headstone. It would be a quiet meal, solemn, though not at all morbid. Afterward, out of respect for the dead, Morrison would pick up every spilled eggshell, every curl of orange peel. The dead fascinated him by the way they lived on, alone in their names, each one separate from the others, and he wanted to erase any trace that he, or his family, might leave in their solitary domain. Once, when he was fifteen, he had gone for a walk in the cemetery with his first girlfriend, a slightly plain but funny, generous-hearted girl called Gwen. He'd intended it to be nothing more than a walk, but almost as soon as they passed through the cemetery gates she had grabbed hold of his arm and kissed him, right there, among the gravestones and the rhododendrons. That kiss hadn't quite worked because they hadn't tried this before, both of them shy and Morrison not sure if he liked Gwen as much for her looks as he did for her personality. That was why he had hesitated, probably; but the truth was that, at first, he hadn't wanted to go on, with the dead all around him, watching from their separate resting places across the cemetery. He'd tried again, though, for the girl's sake, and this time they did it right, Gwen tilting her head like they did in the movies, so their noses didn't get in the way. After that, they kissed for a long time, maybe a minute, not quite knowing how to stop once they had got started.

As soon as he and Gwen parted, however, that kiss began to worry him. He didn't want to upset or insult the dead, because they were alone in some silent otherness--and that, he had realized, was why they could forgive us. He'd never had any doubt that the dead were better for being dead: they were beyond all the petty concerns and trivial disputes and anxieties that trouble the living. They breathed with God. That was how Morrison had imagined them as a child: breathing God's air, but never seeing Him, always alone. It was up to them to watch us, dispassionately, from a distance, and they forgave us the more easily for that. It wasn't God's job to forgive, it was theirs. They saw, and they understood, but God couldn't understand because God's standards were so high, and because He always got so bloody wrathful, smiting and striking down here, there, and everywhere. So, being perfect, He gave the job of forgiveness to the dead. It was logical, when you thought about it. Morrison liked to think of it as a form of delegation.


From the Hardcover edition.

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Glister 3.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 19 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The Glister received glowing reviews from critics I admire and the first half of it was suspenseful, engaging and original. Then it fell apart. The reader was terrific, but the novel was very disappointing.
TrishNYC More than 1 year ago
In Glister we find a book that is trying too hard to be smart. The writing is good enough, the story had potential but somehow it does not really pan out. The basic story is that of a town that is dead both figuratively and physically. The giant plant that once was the lifeblood of the community has been closed after years of polluting the people and their environment. Many of the town's inhabitants are sick or dying of diseases that can be traced back to their association with the plant. Now the town is just a shell that is going through the motions but no one is really doing much but just existing. Into this mix throw in an unscrupulous millionaire, an incompetent police officer, a fourteen year old who is trying to make sense of the happenings around him and the disappearances of young boys that remains unsolved and you have what could have been a really good mystery.

Young boys have been going missing from the town for many years. Not much is done to solve the mystery and the boys are all said to have run away for the bright lights of the big city. The author was able to create a setting that draws you in almost from the start. You feel the deadness and desolation of the town as you read and you feel as creeped out by the place as the author wants you want to. As you read of the disappearances, you let your mind ponder what is going on and your excited to find out the truth behind it all. Though the author sometimes spends too much time on describing scenes or people's thoughts, you still read on because you want to see where this is going. The story keeps getting more and more bizarre as you read but you keep reading because something about this town is very odd so bizarre just seems like something that should happen. But then you finally get to the point where enough is enough and you cannot take anymore. The end was this weird, seemingly supernatural ending that in my opinion was the final nail in this story's coffin. It was a mess and it was too bad that all the potential just went nowhere. I really cannot recommend this to anyone because I am not even sure what happened here.
willmurdoch on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Darkly Scottish and full of adolescent angst, adult angst, and murderous angst. Great tone and characterizations.
Bridget770 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
I thought this book would be a higher brow thriller-mystery type read, and it wasn't. It was more a surreal coming of age story, but I thought the characters were not interesting. I did not understand the plot, though it was easy to follow. The author was very descriptive and visual which I did like, but overall, not a good read.
lawgrrl07 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Unlike novels that create a world and then reflect it through the interior monologue of one or more characters, The Glister seems to be all interior voice and no reality. The terror of childhood is ever-present, even as our protagonist Leonard speaks with the voice of someone at least twice his age. Leonard's interior world is a deliciously wicked place to be - his observations razor-sharp, his motives decidedly unpure - yet he is not evil or even all that deviant. Leonard is a teenager navigating a literally poisoned world; poisoned by the plant since closed that chemically contaminated the town and the surrounding woods. And now boys are being murdered, stolen from their homes and turning up dead in horrifying corporeal displays. As Leonard winds his way toward an equally grim end, we are hard-pressed to determine what is real and what exists in the boy's head, refracted through the toxins of terror and distrust.The book's cover describes this work as "terrifying" - I didn't find it so much terrifying in the traditional adult sense. What it does well is encapsulate the fear that children spend so much time trying to ignore. They are told by adults not to talk to strangers, for example, but they are usually not told why in an effort not to frighten them. But what could be more frightening than not knowing what you are supposed to be frightened of? The few adult characters in the book are not as thoroughly examined, but all are broken, shattered people. No one escapes whole - there is no hope here, just despair and decay. The story does not wrap up nicely; there are no easy answers, no definitive resolutions. I recommend it with reservations - a mystery with a toxic cloud at its center.
MarkTheShark on LibraryThing 1 days ago
The nearest author to this book I'd previously read is Rupert Thomson. The same sense of a part-familiar, part-strange world. Burnside similarly strives to stay clear of cliches, and the familiar to produce an original world. Just when you think you can pigeon hole it, Glister adds a twist or angle and keeps you trying to understand this strange society. The world of Glister is familiar enough that Burnside can draw parallels with current Britain.
yourotherleft on LibraryThing 1 days ago
The Glister is more the story of a town than it is of any one person. Innertown has been decimated by its chemical plant. With the demise of the once successful chemical plant, the town seems to deteriorate and fall in on itself. The plant leaves behind a town populated with ineffectual adults unable to recover from chemical induced ailments or trapped with the grief of losing loved ones and a generation of disaffected children who haunt the abandoned and disintegrating chemical plant property in search of meaning or maybe just a way out of their dismal futures. While the adults seem to be caught up in their own lowgrade misfortune, young boys are disappearing. Instead of seeing this for the problem that it is, all choose to believe that the young teenage boys have simply found a way to escape their fates in Innertown. I can't tell you much more, except that there's quite a bit of violence, a few teenagers that are actually even h-rnier than you would expect of teenagers, and a good deal of bad language. And this wouldn't have bothered me if it had all added up to something in the end. Instead the book just seems to trail off in yet one more mystery that doesn't seem to make any sense. As it so happens, so much of this book would be promising if only it had all come to something. If there is indeed a main character for this book, it is Leonard, a teenage boy whose father is dying and whose mother has walked out on them. Leonard's narration crackles and pops with teenage cynicism and wit. He's a good character with a unique and consistent voice. And the atmosphere. The atmosphere in the book is stunning. Burnside manages to create an impression in the reader that Innertown is a place where the sun never shines, where the town's misfortunes cover it like blanket. Even though there are scenes where the sun is actually shining, one can't shake the feeling that this is a place where it is perpetually overcast, and no light shines in. All these things kept me reading in hopes of a fascinating resolution despite my intense dislike of Leonard's freakishly h-rny girlfriend and the various and sundry gratuitous things you would find in an R-rated movie. As you may have guessed, I was ultimately disappointed. The end just doesn't quite come together satisfactorily. It's a little like being led into a maze by someone who knows where they're going and being left halfway through to find your own way out. While I can handle an ambiguous ending, The Glister ultimately leaves too many questions unanswered without so much as a clue to lead its readers to any real resolution.
ElizaJane on LibraryThing 1 days ago
Innertown, located somewhere on the coast of Britain, has been more like a ghost town since the chemical plant closed down years ago. Since them most people who worked there have either died or are very sick with undetermined illnesses. The plant and the surrounding acres have been shut down and closed off, left to the elements and time. Of course kids being kids, there are some who still like to hang out and wander around the old plant. This is the setting for a sudden disappearance of a local boy, there one minute, gone the next. Now over the years, every so often a boy will disappear, one this year, then one two years later, then one the next year and so on. The local police find no traces, the boys are just old enough, and family circumstances just bad enough for them to say this is a dead end town for these kids, they've had enough, they've packed up and gone off to face the world on their own. Some believe that line, others don't.Each chapter of the book is narrated by a different voice and thus the story is told from many points of view. Some characters only share their view occasionally while others, such as the main character, a local boy called Leonard, come to the front more often. From reading the blurbs and book summary I had presumed this would be a horror story but it is no ordinary horror book, instead I found it much more like what I would call a crime thriller. I found it very engrossing and read the book within a 24 hour period always coming back to it after having had to put it down for some reason or other. A page turner with wonderful characterization especially considering the short number of pages. I was really caught up in the story and found some of the scenes as the case started to unravel quite unnerving. My problem is with the ending, well with the last page exactly. As I was reading along and the case had been solved to the reader's satisfaction, I came to the last page and came upon a scene which made me exclaim a great big "HUH???" I have no idea why it ended the way it did or what it's supposed to mean. Remove that last page and I would have enjoyed the book for a higher rating but the ending left me so confuddled, I'm at a loss to say how I feel about the rest of the book now. Read the book and you'll enjoy a good thriller but do yourself a favour and skip the last page or maybe come back to it and read it a week later.
cal8769 on LibraryThing 1 days ago
There is so much death and illness associated with the now closed chemical plant in Innertown. Now boys are disappearing from this modern day ghost town. The police are involved in a cover-up and no one notices. They assume the boys ran away. This book is very dark and creepy. You want to find out what happens but there isn't a clear cut answer. I enjoyed the way the book was written, each chapter told from a different point of view. It is a very nontraditional horror story. I would recommend this book and will be looking for other books from this writer.
efoltz on LibraryThing 1 days ago
The remanents of a town has several boys going missing. Most of the town is sick from the chemical plant. The majority of the novel follows one boy participating in delinquent activities. One of the chapter seems to be over a 100 pages. At times, I found myself skimming the words.
RobinDawson on LibraryThing 3 days ago
Very well written, very atmospheric, mystery is well developed and characters are well drawn, but the central premise and conclusion were a bit too fantastical for me.
cameling on LibraryThing 3 days ago
A town where left barren and depressed as a result of the closing of the chemical plant where many of their now ill citizens used to be employed, suffers yet more tragedy as young boys, 5 in all, disappear. No explanation can be found for their disappearance, their bodies aren't found so everyone assumes these are runaways trying to seek a better life outside.But are they runaways or is there a darker evil that is preying on the boys of Innertown?The story and the evil gradually unfolds through the telling of individual stories. We hear from a friend of one of the boys who went missing, the town's policeman, his crazy wife, a boy who grew up on the sidelines and made himself into a powerful businessman, a hardened teenager and a hermit. We can feel the evil swirling around us, but we can't pinpoint exactly where or what it is until ...... it's too late.
LJRogers More than 1 year ago
This book just fell apart as it ended. It was as if the author lost direction.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I enjoyed this book and found it very thrilling. I liked being kept guessing and don't mind the ending being ambiguous. The characters were fresh and real, the story was sinister, the setting was cool and I raced to the end of the book. I'm still thinking about it over 6 weeks later.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I would really like to get inside John Burnside's mind to see how this novel came about. The premise is extremely interesting...sinister and unsettling. What exactly is going on in Innertown, a place where no one ever visits and no one ever leaves? Innertown is known for exactly one thing...a decrepit, condemned chemical plant, which many consider to be the cause of strange diseases attacking its residents. It is not known to the outside world that Innertown is also the place where five young boys have disappeared. Morrison, the insecure constable, found the first boy, but made a regretful mistake in the aftermath. This mistake has changed his life and will ultimately be his demise. The book goes back and forth among different narrators and even tenses. This novel was such a paradox in that I couldn't stop reading it, yet I still don't know if the mysteries were solved. The reader is under the assumption that what happened to those boys is the central mystery of The Glister. However, I was left with more questions than were answered. I would hope that Burnside did this intentionally. If so, he certainly met his mark, because I was left utterly confused. Read this if you care about a good plot but not a satisfying ending. MY RATING - 3/5 To see my rating scale and other reviews, please check out my blog: http://www.1776books.blogspot.com