My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I was recommended this book by someone I was speaking to on Amazon forums. The conversation was about British and American fiction and I was saying that I didn’t think there were any UK writers who wrote fiction about the outsider, the character on the fringes of society, as well as US writers do. She suggested this book as an example of how I might be wrong, and I’m so glad she did because I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The novel essentially revolves around the tale of Ronnie, an idealistic but ultimately naive teenager living in Soho at the time the sixties were just really getting underway. He’s a heroin addict and attaches himself to the small, bohemian scene in London that existed before the Summer of Love. We follow him as he falls foul of emerging attitudes and policies on drug addiction and moves in and out of institutions (usually escaping before being caught again) intending to cure him.
Glimpses of a Floating World is an extremely well written book and deals with subject matter you don’t see too often in British literature. It reminded me in tone, strangely, of Ed Bunker, especially his autobiography Mr. Blue: Memoirs of a Renegade. There are lots of books about the psychedelic sixties so I found it interesting that this one focuses more on the friction between the established fifties social order and the very beginnings of sixties rebellion – a handful of characters more influenced by the American Beat movement than anything else. That is something I haven’t seen before in a British context.
My only gripe would be that the culmination of the novel comes a little bit quickly. Harrison spends a lot of time fleshing out Ronnie’s character and the world he inhabits, and then the plot which brings about the book’s conclusion happens rather fast. It could have been a longer book is I guess what I’m saying. But this is a minor point in what is one of the best books I’ve read this year.
It’s worth noting as well that this is a self-published work. Why it hasn’t been picked up by a major publisher is beyond me. If you ever needed proof that self-published authors do not just produce weak, insubstantial vanity texts, this book is it. I’d highly recommend it.