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Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead from @TitanBooks

Glitterati by Oliver K. Langmead 

Titan Books, paperback, £8.99 

Reviewed by Robin C.M. Duncan 

The front cover for Glitterati by Oliver. K Langmead. The background is light grey and there is a blank white dead in the middle. The head is wearing a spikey gold crown with gold dripping down the face. There is a flesh coloured hand holding a blue and gold dragonfly over the face like a mask

Right from the word ‘go’, it was clear to anyone that Oliver Langmead’s long-form work was something quite exotic. His 2015 debut Dark Star is a detective noir poem. Yes, you read that correctly. This was followed in 2017 by Metronome, in which the world of dreams is the author’s playground, and his main character is a wizened old man living in an Edinburgh care home. 2021 saw the publication of Birds of Paradise, Langmead’s third novel featuring no lessor entity than biblical Adam himself as its protagonist, trying to reassemble the Garden of Eden. What would Oliver do next? The answer is Glitterati

Simone and his wife Georgie live a life of hyper-rich luxury impossible for unfashionably ugly working folk to imagine. Cloistered in the pampered world of the elite fashionistes and fashionistas, their most significant concern on any given day, or hour of that day, is deciding what to wear. And if, by some tragic misfortune, they encounter the vulgarity of life on the city’s streets as they are whisked by champagne-drenched limousine to the office where they pretend to work or to a glitzy restaurant where they pretend to eat, well, they can always have those memories of the dirty, ugly citizenry removed. But, in a world where bucking the trend is unthinkable, and a fashion faux pas might precipitate a fall from grace, what does a Glitterati do when they find they have a rival? 

The author’s conception of the immaculate world of the chic glitterati is pinpoint sharp, every flamboyant detail lavishly imagined. But, dusting Simone’s naïve and insulated worldview is an oblivious entitlement, a monstrous profligacy, unimaginable wastefulness so subtly woven through everyday events that it’s a little like having one’s conscience pricked with a stiletto so sharp as to be painless, at first. 

The stakes, too, for the character and society, in general, are wonderfully understated. Amid the glamour, the style, the dazzling fashion, and everyday frippery conceal an economic dystopia, and the more the story progresses, the more a reader might begin to question just how much or little actual exaggeration there is in this parable on the lives of the rich and glamourous. 

As one would expect, things cannot remain rosy in Simone’s garden for long, and they don’t. Sheer luck takes a hand, and Simone’s reactions—sometimes clumsy, sometimes insightful, often utterly insensitive—are revealed the story’s heart. Heart in the sense of the centre, but also in terms of the emotions that beat beneath the surface. For although Simone is not the easiest character to root for, the author skilfully applies the foundation in the early stages, using the light and shadow of the character to lead the reader to a surprisingly satisfying blush of sympathy. 

For here is the sublime, the ridiculous, and the just plain fabulous. There really is no other word for this story. There is drama and style and passion; fall from grace, phoenix-like ascension; characters, couture and imagination so dazzling they would make Gaultier weep. Not to mention the delightfully surprising subversions of certain classic fantasy tropes; a thrilling, heart-in-the-mouth golf cart ride; courtroom drama; a wedding: I could go on. 

Glitterati is divine, hilarious, inventive and affecting, like nothing you have read before. Well, apart maybe from the Ben Wheatley issue of Vogue, Stella McCartney’s entry in the Warhammer 40K Black Library, or that time Margaret Atwood guest-edited Hello! Magazine. If you want to try something different and very, very good, this might be the book for you.

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