Shopping and f***ing

<strong>Clear Water</strong>

Will Ashon <em>Faber & Faber, 327pp, £12.99</em>

ISBN 0571231012

The eponymous retail complex in Will Ashon's first novel is not just any shopping centre. It's an underground consumer fortress, a monolithic suburban mall, permanently bathed in a trademarked "Sunlite Ambient Glare", with a security system to rival a small country.

For the lifestyle journalist Peter Jones, Clear Water presents an opportunity to publish a career-saving cultural critique - as well as the chance to embark on a series of furtive hotel-room liaisons with a shop assistant. However, his investigations soon bring him up against a shadowy corporation and a one-time secret service operative with a serious God complex.

This is a messy and energetic novel, a thriller that struggles to be satirical. While its frequent swipes at the excesses of consumer culture are amusing enough, they are far from original, and Jones's journalistic misadventures emerge as one of the few well-realised strands in an otherwise tangled narrative. The stories of an alcoholic, a former cricketer and an ageing wartime pin-up are too disparate to knit together in any satisfying manner. But there is an impressive imagination at work here, and while Ashon's prose revels a little too readily in the greasy and the grubby - it oozes with every conceivable bodily fluid - there are flashes of brilliance in the writing.

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