First the good news: Ned Beauman’s aptly titled new novel is glowing with good ideas. Set in a clubber’s London beset by an MDMA drought, Glow features a bright 22-year-old chancer named Raf who meets a mysterious and beautiful half-Burmese girl called Cherish at a pop-up rave in a Camberwell launderette. Glow, a mythical new dance drug, looks set to be the saviour of the serotonin-depleted revellers; Raf is keen to score some. But all is not as it seems. Raf’s pursuit of the gear and girl leads him into a murky underworld of multinational corruption, drug running, money laundering, surveillance and Burmese liberation politics, starring a bewildering cast of double agents, industrialists, subcontractors, pirate DJs, chemists, journalists and private security officers. Cherish’s complex back story unfolds as the plot spools forward, always just out of Raf’s grasp, and he assumes the role of detective in his own imbroglio. The novel is – in places – sexy and urgent, buoyed by a host of intriguing themes: foxes that appear to be getting more intelligent; the sociopathology of globalised big business; the meaning of emotion in a narcotic-laden world obsessed with neurochemistry.
And there is more good news. Glow begins with aplomb, seizing the reader with its very first sentence (‘When he first sees her, Raf is sitting on a washing machine about to swallow an eighth of a gram of what is apparently a mixture of speed,