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Christopher Priest: The Glamour

Richard Grey was a cameraman. When a car bomb exploded near him, not only was he badly injured but he lost his memory of the events of the weeks before the explosion. He is recovering in hospital, when a woman called Susan Kewley comes to visit him. She claims to know him but he has no recollection of her. Further discussion reveals that, at least in her opinion, they had an affair. Kewley tries to stir his memory but though he is, at least overtly, willing, he remembers nothing about her. However, a few clues seem to emerge that indicate he might have known her. Gradually, he starts recalling her and their relationship. Unfortunately, his memories and hers are different, substantially different in some cases. Did they meet in France or in England? And what about Niall, her former boyfriend?

Of course, all this would have made a nice Hitchcockian story about amnesia and memories, if it had been written by a conventional writer. However, the author is Christopher Priest and the amnesia story is just a McGuffin. What counts is the Glamour. The Glamour is a sort of an aura certain people have (Richard, Susan and Niall all have it) which, among other things, can make the bearer invisible. How this affects their lives and the relationship between Susan, Richard and the primarily invisible Niall, in the light of the Glamour, are what this novel are about. There is, of course, a price to pay for having the Glamour (which is something you get whether you want it or not) and part of the novel is about this price. For Grey, the price is the invisible Niall, who won’t let Susan go but also won’t let Grey go. Once again, Priest takes a relatively conventional story about relationships and looks at them from a completely different perspective, thereby producing a superb novel. We all make fictions. Not one of us is what we seem. We rearrange our memories to suit our present understanding of ourselves, and not to account accurately for the past…The urge to rewrite ourselves as real-seeming fictions is present in us all: in the glamour of our wishes we hope that our real selves will not become visible.

Publishing history

First published 1984 by Jonathan Cape