When a publishing house decides to market a book - and it often seems to happen with debut novelists - by comparing it to the works of well known and beloved authors, I have a tendency to cross my arms and stamp my foot and declare a general intolerance for such buffoonery.
And... I tend to fall for it pretty much every time. Which is, of course, what the marketing department is hoping for. When Gallery Books offered Robert Levy's new novel, The Glittering World up for early review with the claim that it is "in the tradition of Neil Gaiman," I snorted and rolled my eyes... and immediately requested it. I annoy myself when I fall for "It's just like Tana French!" or "If you love Neil Gaiman, you'll love this!" but I do it.
I do it.
And guess who Robert Levy is like? Robert Levy.
I like all sorts of stories. Fiction, non-fiction, romances, history, contemporary, graphic novels and memoirs, and thanks to Station Eleven, I'm even exploring genres I've tended to pass over in the past. But if I'm to declare a list of absolute favourites, anything with a reference to myths, legends, or fairy tales rendered in a contemporary fictional setting absolutely lands within the top three.
The Glittering World opens with four friends traveling together from New York to a remote Canadian community, where one of them grew up in a commune. The novel is broken into four parts, each one told from the point of view of one of the four characters. The first story is Blue's narrative and although, of course, every story must start somewhere, I felt like my perception of Blue perhaps suffered a bit from his story being first. Blue's character is intended to come off as irresistible to everyone around him; sensual, sexual, charismatic. Unfortunately, being introduced to such a character from his own perspective made him seem, to me, to be quite narcissistic and rather uncaring towards all these people who are drawn towards him. I'm not entirely sure whether this was Levy's intention, as further in the book when we see Blue from the perspectives of others, my attitude towards him softened slightly.
I finished this novel with conflicting responses. Much I what I yearn for when I pick up a novel that promises these fantastical elements was certainly met with Levy's novel. Sometimes, in other novels of similar ilk, I feel like the author's tendency, when faced with fairy-tale or mythical elements, is to romanticize or soften the edges of those elements, which always lessens the point to me. Like all the whitewashing of Grimm's original fairytales. Those novels often end up feeling more like a step above children's stories, or created more for a young adult genre. Levy doesn't hesitate to make this an adult novel - gritty, sexual, hard edged and realistic in concrete details ranging from relationships to the actual physical world. This, I liked. It's what I want, the elements of why I'm drawn to these darker stories in the first place.
Where my response conflicted was, perhaps, the other side of the coin. Where Levy created an excellent representation of a darker world, he made it so dark and gritty that I had much difficulty in understanding why any of the characters, save for Blue, would ever wish to return or reside in that world. There's glitteriness, yes, and apparent wisdom, but all of the disturbing physical elements inherit in the world made it seem intolerable for a physical being not created for such a world to remain within it, and no amount of glitteriness Levy created could convince me otherwise.
So, sure, I'm going to say that if you like Neil Gaiman, you may enjoy The Glittering World, but I encourage you to approach Levy's creation as his own and appreciate the strength of his words and engrossing, disturbing world.