Genre mainstay Christopher Fowler channels JG Ballard in ‘Plastic’, a suburban fantasy gone wrong. June Cryer is a shopaholic housewife whose world crumbles when her husband has an affair with their neighbour and decides to sell their home. Forced to pay the credit card bill and facing life on the streets, June offers to house-sit for a friend of a friend in a high-end London apartment for cash.
However, when she’s there, a young girl rushes in the apartment and is seemingly murdered. When the body disappears, June is faced with a dark web that is far beyond the world of shopping centres and store cards and is forced to survive on her own without nobody to turn to and nowhere to go.
Written entirely from June’s perspective, we journey along with an unlikely heroine. Having married young, she let herself become a kept woman and is now thrown into the world of independence at the deep end, murder plots aside. Even though she’s qualified for nothing, June is a sharp narrator and fully aware of her apparent failings. Her obsession with shopping is dealt with in vivid detail and would rival the aforementioned Ballard and Chuck Palahniuk when it comes to social commentary.
The book flags a bit towards the end and some of the vitriol fades as we approach the closing chapters, which is a bit disappointing. All the elements are there but for some reason, the total seems less than the sum of its parts. I would have been quite happy for them to ditch the gang plot and have June wander the streets, learning to survive and meeting strange characters along the way.
June’s character is also unusual. Despite knowing she’s 29, she seems to drift from someone in their early twenties to their mid-forties. Her lack of real world skills beyond shopping make it difficult for the reader to root for June, plus I wasn’t 100% sure she actually learns her lesson, given how her character ends up.
Her best friend, Lou, which I write in the loosest sense of the word, is also quite unlikeable. I’m guessing she’s meant to be sassy and not care about others but, in all honesty, she’s just a bit of a cow who doesn’t tell June that she knows her husband is having an affair.
Looking at the positives of ‘Plastic’, it is well-written and however implausible, Fowler does create a great scenario. His London is also cold and scary for those who don’t know it. It’d be easy for one to say that they’d be able to survive in her situation but walking through those dark streets at 4am is a different prospect altogether and it’s no wonder that people fall through the cracks.
This is certainly a book of two halves, starting off explosively and cutting towards modern society with June’s voice staying with you. More of that please, Christopher. But the second half will leave you feeling like you’ve just opened a credit card bill when you can’t remember what you’ve bought.
(pub: Solaris/Rebellion. 274 page small enlarged paperback. Price: £ 7.99 (UK), $ 7.99 (US), $ 9.99 (CAN) . ISBN: 978-1-78108-124-2)