Book Review: Glitch

L-J is an engineer living in company owned accommodation in Hoboken, USA. For six years he worked on the national grid’s New Jersey Transmission Project until a hand injury led to him being struck off sick. He had enjoyed dangling from pylons at great heights, aspiring to be one of the linesmen who work six inches from live wires – the entire voltage running through and around them. L-J has always wanted to be a part of things, connected to the grid. Despite this, life and those he encounters wash over him. The only connection he has ever truly felt is the bond with his mother back home in England. Now she is dying.

L-J needs an operation on his hand and is offered the chance to have the procedure done in the UK where he was born and raised. He decides to return to Dunwich on the Suffolf Coast, a place he left abruptly to travel to the USA. His flight home makes headlines when it suffers a malfunction, a glitch that causes it to plummet back down to earth. As chaos erupts around him, L-J calmly reflects on his job and the people he is returning to.

“everything is already broken, everything is prone to malfunction. We spend our entire lives trying to fix things when there’s no point.”

When L-J eventually reaches London he is met by his sister, Ellen, who appears to blame him for the inconvenience of his delayed arrival. Their relationship is fractured, with a history of resentments. Ellen is married to Paul and they are worried about the financial impact of the current recession – its threat to their livelihoods. She is angry that L-J left the UK in the way he did. L-J is put out that she does not show adequate interest in and concern about the flight on which he could have died. He recalls an incident when she attacked him as a baby. Although he only knows of this through hearsay, he still harbours anger that she does not voice regret for her childish actions.

“Nobody wants to spend time examining the blips in our lives, we just hope they’ll go away, but they don’t. They remain with us, like a scar that never fades.”

L-J stays in the family home, walks along the shore, relishes the memories evoked. He sits at his mother’s hospital bedside trying to comfort her and himself. The two have always shared a closeness born of outings, art and poetry. He is her beautiful boy, reading the books she suggested as a means to retain and strengthen their connection.

“that’s the beauty of poetry, there’s nothing to understand, only something to grasp.”

“by his early teens he’d already decided that he wanted to be an engineer. Poetry, apart from serving as the living umbilical cord between him and Mother, had no other use.”

Ellen wishes to discuss practical matters and rails against her brother’s attitude and behaviour. Her priority, as she considers their mother’s imminent death, is attaining monetary security – something L-J has no interest in. He values their childhood home for visceral reasons.

This is a strangely told tale. The writing has a detached feel. The protagonist, from whose point of view it is written, is there in each moment but also in imaginings triggered by conversation or events. His musings are distracted which can be somewhat disconcerting to read.

“Everything remains just under the surface of things”

L-J’s seemingly more practical sister is living in a different reality to his. She cannot comprehend his actions, past or present, and shows her irritation. He resents her material outlook and aspects of their shared history.

In the hospital, Mother’s health continues to deteriorate. Tied to their home for this period of time, L-J looks through cupboards and drawers finding photographs and letters that fill in gaps of knowledge from the family’s past. He considers these new facts a ‘rip in the fabric of our reality’.

The glitches in L-J’s life have proved pivotal even if they did not provide what he was hoping for. It is these that he holds on to, the harness that prevents him falling from height to his demise. Whatever Ellen demands, he must find a way to cope in his own way with their mother’s death.

A story of grief and the detachment needed to survive it – the free fall suffered when connections are severed. Although not always straightforward, the reflections evoked – the understanding of human nature – linger long after the last page is turned. A poignant and original read.

My copy of this book was provided gratis by the publisher, Dead Ink.


Growing up

What do you want to be when you grow up?

I used to have so many plans, dreams and aspirations. Mostly though, I wanted to be free. I wanted to be able to phone my friends without my mother worrying about the cost of the phone call; to stay up all night to finish my book and then sleep through the next day to recover; to come home as late as I chose from a night out without worrying those who cared about me. I wanted to live my life by my rules without anyone else complaining about the choices I made.

When I left my parent’s home and moved into my flat I experienced living alone for the first time and did all of the things I had hoped for. Independence was heady and fun but also lonely at times. I am so glad that I had the experience of total freedom for those few years though as it helped me deal with the inevitable compromises that had to be made when I chose to get married and was sharing a house again. Love can last a lifetime but that initial euphoria of being in love can struggle to exist alongside day to day living. Knowing that I had been lonely living alone helped me to put minor irritations in perspective; to accept the choices that I had made.

I wanted to have children and adore being a mother. I launched myself into the role and it has been the key feature of my life and decision making for the past seventeen years. I have only recently realised how much I have allowed what is me to be swallowed up by the person that I thought I should be. I have spent so long pouring all of my energy into being the good wife and the good mother that I have lost sight of what I wanted to be when I grew up.

Of course, I still wish to be a good wife and a good mother, but I sometimes think that I have become a caricature of these things. I suspect that my husband and children would find me a lot more interesting if I could cast off the shackles of the role society has persuaded me I should be aiming for and went back to being myself. Looking at the people that they have become, I think that my family would still like me.

I find it hard to verbalise the change I am trying to engineer; I want evolution rather than revolution. It is still the small things that make me feel caged: the wish to stay up late without my husband making me feel guilty; the ability to talk to my children as equals rather than nagging them about things that are really not so important; spending my time reading a book or surfing the net when my husband is working hard at something constructive without feeling that I should be undertaking some useful task too. I have imposed so many unnecessary standards on myself and then wonder why my personal sacrifices are not appreciated. It is only I who have made me the way I have become.

When I was a teenager I felt like a prisoner in my parent’s home. I knew that I was loved and that staying there was the only way that I could achieve the goals I had; I needed to gain qualifications if I was to earn the money that I needed to be free. Now I feel like a prisoner in the home that I have helped to create. I know that I have built the walls myself and that nobody forced me to do so. I need to work out what I want to be now; I need to grow again.