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lip lit: alan glynn, bloodland


Conspiracy theories suggest that something with a seemingly simple explanation explodes into a cyclone of lies, deceit and corruption. Alan Glynn’s Bloodland is a prime example of this phenomenon. Struggling journalist Jimmy Gilroy is given a mundane assignment to write the biography of a train-wreck tabloid star, who died in a helicopter crash three years ago. However, what unfolds is a more sinister truth. And an even more sinister truth after that.

To explain more about the unfolding of events would be unkind to future readers. Let me assure you the conspiracy is satisfying in that it is sordid and treacherous, as well as achingly simple and dangerously plausible. Having seen Limitless, the film adaptation of Glynn’s first novel, The Darker Fields, I was suspicious to the level of imagination that Glynn will allow to go into his narrative. However, while there are clearly some elements of poetic licence, Glynn does not steer Bloodland into the dangerous territory of science fiction, which maintains the sinister prospect that much of the book could happen. Furthermore, Glynn has claimed he was inspired by real conspiracy theories.

To tackle a subject so dense, Glynn has chosen to split the narrative into three parts, containing smaller chapters. This does not work in his favour at the beginning of the book, as the shift between characters’ perspectives are confusing, with the reader often being left unsure of what information is relevant and who the major characters are.  While retrospectively much of the first part of the book could be considerably condensed, I can see how Glynn deliberately introduced plot-points and characters to mislead the reader’s thinking in what would happen next.

It is the investigation into the conspiracy and the response of those involved which makes Bloodland so engaging. At the beginning you are meant to feel sorry for the characters due to their personal flaws, yet by the end of the book you have different feelings completely. These shades of grey are interesting as I interpret it as Glynn’s way of humanizing the subjects of the conspiracy, which sets it apart from other crime novels where the distinction between good and evil characters is more apparent. By giving characters on multiple sides of the conspiracy a voice, the reader discovers information at different times to the characters. Instead of ruining crucial plot-points, this tactic helps make the flow of information between characters more organic and helps keep the reader engaged.

Bloodland is ambitious in setting separate narratives in Dublin, New York City and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and by slowly interweaving the plots as more information is discovered. Again, this does not make engaging with the book immediately easy, but once the story and rhythm of the narrative becomes familiar, the multiple locations considerably enrich the density of the narrative. By giving the narrative a global perspective, it allows Bloodland to perform as a political commentary on the relationships between government, multi-national corporations, the media, non-governmental organisations and civilians.

Furthermore, the political landscape of the fallout from the Global Financial Crisis, China’s economic interest in Africa and the relationship between business, government, public relations and the media helps nurture the notion of reality within a fictional framework. While the focus is on the micro perspective of the characters in the book, the overarching themes of corruption, spin and the search for the truth are prevalent. This is by the reader constantly questioning their own position in a how-much-can-you-really-trust-what-you-are-being-told kind of way. As a result, I recommend Bloodland to any budding world-saving journalists, ball-breaking public relations officers, seedy politicians or corrupt businessmen – as it may very well be a how-to (or how-not-to) guide for your stellar future.

As you might presume, Glynn attempts to tackle some big global issues within Bloodland and does not offer all the answers. While this may seem frustrating to some, the reality is that if many of the problems Glynn poses did have solutions, he would be a world leader and not an author – so he is forgiven.  However, most of the characters are left with loose ties and many plot-points are only given tentative conclusions. It is therefore no surprise that Glynn has promised to revisit some of the characters in future works, just like he did with a certain character from his previous novel, Winterland. This would hopefully also readdress some of the unresolved plot points, and further continue the story.

Therefore, if that is the case, then I’ll bet my house that his next book would have …land in the title too.



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