The Glass Kingdom

Chris Flynn

The Glass Kingdom
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The Glass Kingdom

Chris Flynn

In the kingdom of the blind, the one-eyed man is king. Ben and his sidekick, Mikey, work the Target Ball stand in a ramshackle carnival travelling up the east coast. Ben is trying to put his time in the army behind him and make some money. Mikey-AKA Mekong Delta, Fremantle’s answer to Fifty Cent-wants to work on his flow and impress girls. Their marks are the boozed-up blokes wandering sideshow alley in the hope of winning fluffy toys for their girlfriends. Easy pickings-so long as Mikey keeps his big mouth shut. Especially since his tendency to start fights jeopardises Ben’s lucrative meth-dealing operation…

Inventive, profane and hilarious, The Glass Kingdom is a breakneck tour of rural Australia’s underbelly from the acclaimed author of A Tiger in Eden.

Review

Amid the dusty showgrounds of bleak regional Australian towns, ex-soldier Ben Wallace and his sidekick Mikey run the Target Ball sideshow in a travelling carnival called the Kingdom. Alongside the regular punters – ‘bored women dragging slouching kids and unemployed husbands around the stalls’ – they entertain another kind of clientele, more interested in the crystal meth Ben deals on the side. It’s a slick operation – Ben has cooks scattered throughout the countryside and the perfect front for evading detection. But Mikey, better known as wannabe rapper Mekong Delta, has a loud mouth and restless legs, and it’s not long before his thirst for thrills gets him into trouble.

Chris Flynn has a real flair for language – in his debut novel, A Tiger in Eden, he played with his tough protagonist’s Belfast dialect to create a uniquely authentic voice. In The Glass Kingdom, the author has upped the ante, inhabiting multiple characters. The gruff and cynical Ben, haunted by his military past, carries mental and physical scars that he grimly embraces as much as he runs away from. A brief, lyrical interlude through the eyes of an elderly Welsh carnie is a poignant and effective vehicle for exploring the history of the Kingdom and its subjects. The real standout, though, is the scattered and hyperactive Mekong Delta. Mikey talks in the affected ghetto-speak of bad Aussie hip-hop, full of manic, run-on sentences and feverish reality-TV daydreams. It could be a recipe for disaster, but Flynn’s commitment to and consistency with the vernacular turns Mikey’s posturing into a reflection on the young man’s ego and scattershot ambition.

Flynn plays with ideas of violence as catharsis, and tests the reader’s sympathies as characters blur from men to monsters and back again. Smart and wryly funny, The Glass Kingdom is an engrossing read from a skilled practitioner of contemporary literary fiction.


Alan Vaarwerk is the editorial assistant for Readings Monthly.

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