The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters – Installments reviewed

Glass Books spines

Last year I subscribed to ‘The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters‘ (previous posts 1, 2), a new novel that Penguin published in ten installments, which were then posted out to subscribers. It made quite a buzz in the blog world (Boing Boing etc) when it was announced but it seems to have all but disappeared now – Google cache reveals Scott Pack did post on it – and having finished all 10 installments, I can understand why. The final installment’s ending was disappointing, because it revealed some of the problems that had been lurking there all along: the underwhelming characters of the bad guys and the underwhelming achievements of the good guys; the waffliness and repetition; the tendency to narrate action in detail that somehow only served to make what was happening all the murkier; and finally, a sense of flatness, of ambivalence among all the characters about what was really being fought over.

All this sounds pretty bleak but the Glass Books was certainly not terrible, and the installments idea meant that I actually really, really enjoyed the experience of reading it. Getting something through the post that’s not a credit card promo is neat enough in itself these days, but Penguin’s art team really excelled themselves with the physical design of the books – they’re gorgeous. Breaking the book down into bite-sized installments also meant its faults didn’t really overwhelm it until the end, and its positive achievements – the interesting setting, the complexity of the quest – had more room to shine. The similarities between the blue glass and modern technologies like TV and the web gave it another fascinating dimension, too. I read most installments within a couple of days of getting them.

Ultimately, though, the Glass Books did disappoint, and it wasn’t the flaws in the writing that overwhelmed it – the killer was how poorly it compared to modern serials. Throughout, the fact that Penguin has “resurected the serial” has been a common line, especially in press coverage – but what else is most modern US TV drama, particularly 24? It’s 24 that I thought the Glass Books suffered most in comparison to – it has nothing on the tense ebb and flow of the fortune of 24’s good guys (in the Glass Books the goodies never seem on the up, the baddies always in possession of limitless power), and it can’t compete with the way that 24’s plot (when at its best) balances suspense, clarity and pace almost perfectly.

Finally, in 24, they’ve realised the importance of keeping the stakes high: 24’s depiction of LA may famously play fast and loose with the traffic and geography of the city, but it’s LA and real people that Jack Bauer is always trying to save – in the Glass Books, the completely imaginary world it was set in, and the maudlin cast of the heroes meant there was little sense of what was at stake; why the heroes and heroine were bothering to save the world, and what, indeed they were really saving. It wasn’t Victorian London after all, and it would have been better if it was, I think.

Finally, and it may not be the book’s fault, but what happened to the mooted community features of the Glass Books website? It remained in flashy, sealed ‘sell’ mode throughout the duration of the installments. A real shame as a forum would have been ideal.

I hope this doesn’t sound too negative; I’m glad I subscribed, and the installments always attract attention on my bookshelves, so I can imagine I’ll be lending them out quite a lot…

Update: Seems like I’m not the only one to compare the Glass Books to US serial TV. Check out this post on Comfortable Disorientation.

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3 Responses to “The Glass Books Of The Dream Eaters – Installments reviewed”

  1. Helen Says:

    Hi Alex
    Thanks for the link and the trackback. A great and fair review of Glassbooks too.

    I really like your blog too. Incidentally, Tinderbox and Monmouth cafe (the original on Monmouth St) are among my favourite coffee-shops too!

  2. Alex Watson Says:

    Cheers Helen 🙂

  3. Deciding what to read, start of 2009 edition « The Wired Jester Says:

    […] to ‘The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters’, which I read at the end of 2006; although I ended up criticising it for pretty much the same reasons as everyone else – it was too baggy, needed an edit, the good guys […]

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