Will Wiles's way with words makes him exquisite companyby Ralph Jones / July 17, 2019 / Leave a comment
There is a huge amount to like in Will Wiles’s latest novel, a story about an alcoholic journalist called Jack Bick who feels his world slipping like sand through his fingers. Plume is many things: a satire about tech surveillance and the London property market; a reflection on the perilous state of the magazine industry; and, principally, a study in addiction.
This is a lot to be juggling simultaneously, and while there might ultimately be one too many balls in the air, Wiles’s gift with words makes him exquisite company—as he was in previous novels The Way Inn and his debut Care of Wooden Floors, one of the funniest books I have ever read.
I nodded with amusement at many of Bick’s ruminations on the nature of magazine journalism. There is wincingly well-observed stuff about PRs, for instance: a woman managing the publicity around a mysterious fire says of the column of smoke: “We prefer to see it as an event like any other kind of event we might handle—just like a product launch or an exhibition, for instance.” Wiles deftly handles the novel’s pace. He is the kind of writer with whom you can spend a weekend without realising it; the kind of writer who coins phrases (“A shaving of disgust”; “hail-hard drizzle”) that enter the mind with delicious ease.
Wiles wrote recently about his own career-threatening alcohol problem—a revelation that perhaps won’t come as a shock to anyone who reads the numerous passages in Plume that shine a stark, merciless spotlight on Bick’s addiction.
These elements of the book ring true because they are true. Elsewhere, as was the case with The Way Inn, the imposition of a villainous, near-omniscient character—in this case Quin, who runs the Facebook-esque app Tamesis—takes Plume out of the plausibly real world it had previously inhabited. But the most gripping parts of the novel are the most grounded, and the reader is left hungry for a bigger helping of those.
by Will Wiles (Fourth Estate, £16.99)