The Glimpse by Claire Merle"In a near future, society is segregated according to whether people are genetically disposed to mental illness. 17-year-old Ana has been living the privileged life of a Pure due to an error in her DNA test. When the authorities find out, she faces banishment from her safe Community, a fate only thwarted by the fact that she has already been promised to Pure-boy Jasper Taurell.
Jasper is from a rich and influential family and despite Ana’s condition, wants to be with her. The authorities grant Ana a tentative reprieve. If she is joined to Jasper before her 18th birthday, she may stay in the Community until her illness manifests. But if Jasper changes his mind, she will be cast out among the Crazies. As Ana’s joining ceremony and her birthday loom closer, she dares to hope she will be saved from the horror of the City and live a ‘normal’ life. But then Jasper disappears.
Led to believe Jasper has been taken by a strange sect the authorities will not intefere with, Ana sneaks out of her well-guarded Community to find him herself. Her search takes her through the underbelly of society, and as she delves deeper into the mystery of Jasper’s abduction she uncovers some devastating truths that destroy everything she has grown up to believe." (from Goodreads)
Ana's character felt uneven in the first part. I thought it was strange how she just abandoned life in her Community to run around looking for a guy named Cole in hopes he might know something about Jasper. It was a little far-fetched, and too sudden a departure from her typical personality since at other times she seems naive and innocent. I thought she should have been more cautious of Lila's group, instead of just hanging out with them (not to mention that Lila just accepting her without asking questions didn't ring true, either — they should have been more suspicious of her, too!) But midway through the author really hit her stride with Ana, as once she starts becoming more independent Ana's decisions begin making more sense with her character. You end up really rooting for Ana as you read it. She's always being given hard choices to make (that aren't really choices at all), and it seems like she's only ever given brief moments of happiness.
Just to warn you, there is a bit of a love triangle here (it might remind you a little of the love triangle in the Matched series), but its dynamic takes an interesting turn partway through when one of the characters involved suffers memory problems (not going to say who!). It becomes pretty obvious which guy Ana has fallen for, but it's hard to discount the other one entirely. They each offer something different — Cole's a bit of a wild guy from the outside, whereas Jasper is the 'tried-and-true' guy from the inside...who happens to have a secret. The romance does get a little mushy/sappy towards the end, but I liked the gentle flirtatious banter between Ana and the guy she chooses as they get to know each other.
I also enjoyed some of the side characters — Nate's kind of a wild card, it was cool how the author wove Ana's friend Tamsin back into the story, and Jasper becomes more interesting once he goes through a certain experience. The Board got under my skin as I'm sure was intended, and the staff at the psych ward were just awful. Ana and her father have a very complex relationship; her dad actually seems to care about her in a certain way, but has a completely different perspective on the society and the direction he wants Ana to go in.
I found The Glimpse tough to get into at first as the first few chapters were really confusing. There were unfamiliar terms being used and I was having a hard time grasping the set-up of the society and figuring out what was going on. (In fact, I actually read the first two or three chapters, then put it down for a couple of weeks before starting over again.)
But I definitely started enjoying it once Cole came onto the scene. He and Ana have a natural chemistry that doesn't feel forced despite what Cole's seen in his Glimpse. The Glimpse is the only element in here that could be considered magical/paranormal, and I liked that it added an element of unpredictability to the story; so much of it is based on science and technology that it was neat to have something that couldn't be pinned down so easily.
Pacing-wise, I thought it was a bit long and drawn-out, and sluggish in places. There's so much information being given to the reader that it feels quite dense, and it can be hard to keep track of everything that's going on. So many different aspects of the society are touched on that it feels overwhelming — we're given the building blocks and then some.
However, Claire Merle clearly knows how to plot. I hate it when it feels like the author scrambled for an ending, like pulling a rabbit out of a hat, but that's not the case here! Throughout the story, little details are mentioned and then come into play later on — like Ana's ability to hold her breath underwater and her time spent studying law — and although a lot is withheld from the reader (I'm not usually a fan of that technique), the author weaves things in so that it's a surprise that makes sense, rather than just a convenient explanation. It does get a little confusing with all the transactions going on, and I was sometimes left in the dark, feeling like I missed a page. Be prepared to flip back a lot to re-read sections!
I thought the climactic scene could have been dramatized a little more; there was some clever mirroring involved but the tension could have been upped. Also, the use of a particular element seemed cheesy and unbelievable (spoiler, highlight to read: I didn't really like the mind-compelling technology. It seemed like a cop-out in how it easily immobilizes Lila & Cole but not Ana because of her special and unexplained semi-resistance).
It ends in a good spot — Ana has made some decisions for herself and really knows what she wants, and it feels like the first barrier has been hurdled. A fair bit is accomplished in this first book, if not in structural societal change (which can hardly be expected this early on) then at least in character development.
I like the idea of basing a dystopian society on mental health striations (at least ostensibly), and I'm not sure why it hasn't been done much before! The author appears to have thought through the history of the world — we're not given it all in one place, but dribs and drabs along the way (like mentions of the housing and financial collapse) provide a sense of how the society came to be like this. I do wish at some point we'd been given a broad overview, as it's difficult to try to remember and piece the various events together in a logical sequence.
The technology could have been explained better; jargon's dropped in and there's only so much you can glean from context (especially at the start). I ended up quite liking how the interface works — it's nothing new in terms of futuristic technology, but I thought it was a versatile mechanism for communicating and transferring information. I also wish there'd been more explanation of one particular type of technology, as I was skeptical about its scientific believability. Oddly enough, some technologies present in The Glimpse are from our day, which seemed out of place — for instance, why does Ana still have a bike? Wouldn't they have developed something far beyond that by then?
I appreciated how the section set in the psych ward was intense and put Ana in an awful situation that tested and strengthened her (and the hygiene issues were disgusting!). However, realistically, I don't know if a futuristic society would go back to using the torturous techniques institutions used in the 1940s/1950s, when they thought such methods were actually helpful.
One way the society we see in The Glimpse connects well to our current society is in the creation of new mental disorders. There are disorders in Ana's world that don't exist right now, like "Mystical Experience Disorder." Since this is the direction the DSM is heading at the moment — more and more behaviours keep getting classified as pathological — I thought it was astute of Claire Merle to pick up on that trend.
The writing could have been smoothed out and streamlined. A lot of it feels quite dense and I think making some sections more concise and varying the sentence structure could help it to feel a little snappier and give it more momentum. There aren't that many action scenes (a lot of the plot revolves around getting information and meeting people), but those present don't feel like they're moving that fast because of the writing. It also wasn't as emotionally compelling as I would have liked. I feel as though the characters could have pulled emotion from the reader if the writing style wasn't holding them back.
But I liked that, although the majority is from Ana's perspective, every so often there's a chapter that focuses on another character.
Final verdict: 4 shooting stars. It may be overly complicated, but The Glimpse is strong on characters and well-thought-out in societal structure. There's plenty for Claire Merle to build on, and I'm looking forward to seeing what happens (especially to certain characters/groups).
Disclaimer: I received this as an eproof through NetGalley from the publisher.