There exists within Gavin James Bower's canny novel an all-knowing shallowness that in lesser debuts would seem flawed. But to ignore, or worse still debunk, such wanton shallowness would miss the point of this critique of consumer society, especially one caught in the far-reaching web of the fashion world.
Following an already-jaded male model, Alex, on his rise to fame, we are allowed a flashing peek into a world most people only see within the covers of a glossy magazine. It comes as no surprise that life behind the super-hyped patina of the fashion industry is just as dismal as in any other substratum of society that demands the real from the unreal. Modelling, like most things trading in ephemeral charm, isn't all it's cracked up to be, especially if, like Alex, one is painfully aware of the facade.
Bower makes all this brilliantly clear in adroit, humorous flashes of insight, revealing a maddening world of myopia and sheer vanity. When Alex introduces his flatmate and fellow model, Andreas, we are instantly informed that he "is with Creative Model Management (like me), has medium to long blond hair and blue eyes (like me), and is tall and slim with a well-defined body (like me)". Alex, saving the novel from the same narcissistic affectation that permeates the whole fashion industry, adds: "I assume the agency put us together because they thought we'd have things in common."
Alex ums and ahs his way through a miasma of castings, photo-shoots, parties, women, men and pills, each as unsatisfactory as the next. In a world of ephemera, where everything has its price, there needs to be something solid to cling on to – and Nathalie, Alex's on/off girlfriend since university, is his foothold in life. But even Alex cannot control this centrifuge and things soon fall apart. Dazed & Aroused is an insightful debut from a novelist who already shows an ability to cut through the hype and reveal the dark heart of everyday life.
Quartet, £10, Order for £9 (free p&p) from the Independent Bookshop: 0870 079 8897
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