Review of “The Glister” by John Burnside

Denizens of Innertown, a sickly isolated place on the site of an abandoned toxic chemical plant, are in various stages of illness or pathology. Young boys keep disappearing. The ones who remain are sociopaths. The young girls are harlots. The older people are in various states of living death. The police and townspeople inexplicably ignore the evil in their midst.


This is Hell on Earth, or maybe just Purgatory, since you have to wait for the Angel of Death to come take you to your even grizzlier demise. Or some of each place: Innertown and Outertown (where the rich people live) could be analogous to Dante’s rings of Hell. In jarring contrast to the content, however, the prose is quite poetic. That doesn’t make it any more pleasant, just more dislocating. In fact, it seems, at times, like a dramatization of the poet Rainer Maria Rilke’s stanzas in “Duino Elegies”:

Who, if I cried out, would hear me among the angels’
hierarchies? And even if one of them suddenly
pressed me against his heart, I would perish
in the embrace of his stronger existence.
For beauty is nothing but the beginning of terror
which we are barely able to endure and are awed
because it serenely disdains to annihilate us.

Recommended only for fans of noir dystopias, or those interested in pondering the nature of death and evil from a very dark perspective.

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2 Responses to Review of “The Glister” by John Burnside

  1. marie says:

    oy. sounds somber indeed.

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