Sunday, November 2, 2014

Book Review: The Glass Cage

Book Review: 'The Glass Cage' by Colin Wilson

3 / 5 Stars

You have to admire the calculated, underhanded, deceptive way that Bantam Books went and took a 1966 novel by Colin Wilson, gave it a ‘scary’ cover, and marketed it as an ‘occult’ thriller akin to The Exorcist.

The reality behind this 249 pp. book, released in July, 1973, is that it has essentially no ‘occult’ or supernatural content, and even further, its crime novel / murder mystery aspects are quite muted.

‘The Glass Cage’ is set in England, in the mid-60s. As the novel opens, Damon Reade,the country’s foremost scholar of William Blake, the 18th century poet, is visited at his Lake District cottage by a London police detective. It seems that a serial killer is loose in London, having killed nine people to date. Some of 'Thames Murders' were marked by the mutilation and dismemberment of the hapless victims. And where some of the bodies (or parts of bodies) were discovered, the authorities have found quotations from Blake’s poetry written in chalk on nearby walls.

Reade has been visited by the London police in order to learn if he is aware of any Blake scholars who might be of a murderous or fanatical bent. But Reade cannot come up with any real suspects. Intrigued, and finding himself bored by his self-isolated lifestyle, Reade decides to make for London. There he contacts his friends among the city's artsy set, and recruits them to assist with his own investigation of the murders.

While the term ‘psychological profiling’ of serial killers is an unknown concept in mid-60s London, as the novel unfolds, Reade comes to display an innate ability to divine the motives, and personality, underlying the gruesome actions of the ‘Thames Murderer’.

But when Damon Reade personally meets his prime suspect, he is beset with doubts: for the suspect seems a harmless, disaffected dilettante…..or is he ? In order to arrive at the truth, Reade will have to place his own life in danger…….

‘The Glass Cage’, as I said at the beginning of this review, is devoid of supernatural content, and it’s not really a detective novel, either (no new murder takes place in the entirety of the narrative, for example). It’s mainly a literary platform on which author Wilson promotes his philosophy of ‘new existentialism’, through the vehicle of the dialogue passages that make up the bulk of the narrative. These are well-written and make for an easy read, but at the same time, readers looking for a genuine thriller will be very disappointed.

For me, the main value of ‘Cage’ was its setting; Wilson perfectly captures the cultural and social aspects of the swinging London of the mid-60s, where attractive young women in short skirts are plentiful and willing, and it doesn’t matter if you are a bohemian artist, or an affluent businessmen. Wilson adopts a point of view in which the reader sees the London scene, and its carefree and youthful energy, through the eyes of the somewhat sheltered Reade.

Summing up, ‘The Glass Cage’ is really a novel about the insights Wilson’s new existentialism could bring to understanding human nature, including its more aberrant aspects. Fans of Wilson’s work will probably find the book interesting, but those looking for an occult thriller are better off avoiding this novel.

1 comment:

knobgobbler said...

It's been a long time since I read this but I do remember enjoying it... probably because, as you mention, I was already a fan of Wilson's non-fiction books.
Like you say, it has no over occult elements... but knowing where Wilson was coming from I kind of read them in as a subtle 'weather' behind the proceeding.