Synopses & Reviews
Since George Listers chemical plant closed down, Innertown has been a shadow of its former self. In the woods that once teemed with life, strange sickly plants grow. Homes that were once happy are threatened by a mysterious illness.
Here, a young boy named Leonard and his friends exist in a state of confusion and despair, as every year or so a boy from their school vanishes after venturing into the poisoned woods. Without conclusive evidence of foul play, the authorities consider the boys to be runaways.
The town policeman suspects otherwise but, paralyzed with fear, he does nothing. And so it is up to the children who remain to take action. Their plan to stop the forces of evil that are destroying their town is at the shocking and terrifying heart of The Glister.
"In his bleakly beautiful seventh novel, Scottish author Burnside (The Devil's Footprint) delivers a cautionary tale illustrating that greed and an indifference to suffering are the real horrors of modern life. In recent years, five teenage boys have disappeared from the coastal village of Innertown, where an abandoned chemical plant deep in the forest is slowly poisoning its rapidly declining population. The official line is that the missing boys are seeking a better life away from the town whose 'sole business is slow decay.' A 15-year-old lad, who's found solace in books and foreign films that he can barely understand, is determined to find out what happened to his friends and why the town's lone cop spends so much time in those tarnished woods. Burnside expertly details an apocalyptic landscape where the 'expectation of failure' is rampant. While the ending feels hurried, Burnside's flawless prose explores how defeat is only a state of mind." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
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.
Reading Group Guide
1. What was your initial reaction to the disappearance of the boys? Were you expecting the story to go in a different direction?
2. The story is set in what was once an area of natural beauty, now defiled by pollution and neglect. Is The Glister an “environmental” novel? Who does the author imply is responsible for the environment's decay? Who suffers from its effects?
3. The novel is told from multiple perspectives, but Leonard is the only character whose thoughts are told in the first person. Why do you think this is? From where might he be telling the story?
4. Leonard remarks, “I can't help thinking that, if you want to stay alive, you have to love something.” How does Leonard maintain a sense of optimism among his bleak surroundings? When and why does his attitude later shift?
5. How does Leonard feel about his mother? Is his attitude justified?
6. What do you think of the way sex is portrayed in the book? Did you find it shocking? What is the significance of the strangling game that Leonard plays with Elspeth?
7. Who is The Moth Man? Did you view him as a positive or a negative presence? Did your feelings about him change as the book progressed?
8. What happens when Alice encounters “the angel”? Is she redeemed? Saved?
9. What part does grace play in the book? What part does guilt play?
10. How did you read the book's final chapter? What is “The Glister”? Does the author set up a Schrödinger's Cat scenario, in which two possible but apparently contradictory endings happen simultaneously? Did the author mean to be ambiguous, or is there a definite interpretation?