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Book Review: Plastic by Christopher Fowler

Plastic by Christopher Fowler“Clever, thrilling, funny, creepy, and utterly compelling!”

Christopher Fowler is what might be termed a stalwart of genre writing. Ever since his explosive debut novel Roofworld hit the stands, he’s been a writer whose work has provoked interest and admiration across the board. Fowler’s books often straddle genres, featuring elements of crime, horror, and science fiction. He has carved out his own niche, and has continued to hone his craft while producing novels and short stories that are entertaining but also have something interesting to say about the world we live in.

Which brings us to his latest novel, Plastic.

As usual, this book seems to exist in the space between genres. It’s ostensibly a crime or a mystery novel, but takes in elements of a personal growth novel and even – God forbid – chick lit. It’s a heady mix, but a writer of Fowler’s talents is always going to pull off whatever challenge he sets himself.

June Cryer is the heroine of the piece. She’s a moribund, vaguely unhappy housewife who finds solace in consumer therapy. The ultimate shopper, she cleanses her soul by spending her husband’s money – usually via a fistful of credit and store cards – on things she doesn’t even want let alone need.

Then, one day, this fragile and aimless existence is torn apart when her husband announces that he’s leaving her for the air hostess next door. June is suddenly without a husband, a home, or the endless supply of plastic that has always enabled her to buy, buy, buy…

A drunken, bitter neighbour – June’s only friend in the world – helps her out by finding her a flat-sitting gig for a girl she knows. It’s easy money, and will afford June a couple of days away from her problems where she can hide in London and try to pull herself together. Her task is to act as caretaker in a high-rise flat in a swanky building called the Ziggurat, just for the weekend. The catch? The power will be out for much of the time while maintenance operations are performed on the building’s power supply.

What could possibly go wrong?

Fowler uses every tool in his possession to unravel what’s left of June’s world. Her quiet, self-reflecting weekend turns into a paranoid nightmare, featuring odd tenants, a possible murder, and a gang of criminals she needs to avoid for reasons she doesn’t understand. The once helpless housewife finds that she needs to transform into a tough survivor if she is going to get through the experience.

Fowler’s prose is elegant and insightful. The story is told with wit and panache, and no matter how dark things get there’s a mordant sense of humour running through everything (there are countless throwaway gems like June’s drunken friend having a flask of Mojito, but made with toothpaste because she didn’t have any mint). Most of the story develops at a careful pace, but the ending explodes into action, with gun-toting skateboarding gangsters in pursuit of a souped-up Smart Car over a crowded Waterloo Bridge. There’s a danger of things getting slightly out of control near the climax, but this experienced author manages to keep things running smoothly.

In short, this is an excellent novel: clever, thrilling, funny, creepy, and utterly compelling. In fact, it’s crying out to be made into a movie.

GARY MCMAHON

Extra information

Publisher: Solaris
Mass market paperback/eBook (274pp)
Release Date: 13 July 2013

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