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Reality TV, trauma and green activism: The Sound of Breaking Glass reviewed

Kirsten Warner. Photo/Supplied

Kirsten Warner's ambitious debut melds a Holocaust mystery, reality TV and green activism to absorbing effect.

Christel is under siege. In her present, she finds it difficult to juggle her highly insecure job in reality television with the demands of her role as partner and mother, not to mention her involvement in activist group Women Against Surplus Plastic.

She is struggling to come to terms with her past, in particular, a traumatic incident in her teens, and the mystery of her late father, Conrad, Holocaust survivor and possible adulterer.

Macro alias: ModuleRenderer

On top of that, Christel does daily battle with her subconscious, which insists on bringing to life both her inner critic, in various guises, and her suppressed anger, in the form of a man made from plastic milk bottles. And alongside the characters she manifests, there is another who is very real, and who potentially means her harm.

The Sound of Breaking Glass is Kirsten Warner’s debut novel, and it’s safe to say, there is a lot going on. We are thrown head first into Christel’s head and forced to become rapidly familiar with the workings of her mind. A tough call when Christel herself isn’t sure what is and isn’t real. The Milk Bottle Man, for example, starts as a sculpture to draw attention to plastic waste but soon becomes animate, possibly sentient, and Christel can’t tell whether it is entirely under her control or nothing to do with her at all.

Such a crammed, frenetic narrative could be confusing and exhausting, but though the novel makes demands on the reader, and at times asks us to entirely suspend disbelief, Warner’s vivid, intelligent writing makes it work.

The book is busy, but it is also absorbing, humorous, suspenseful and inventive. Christel keeps the reader on her side – just – and as intrigued by the mysteries of her past as she is. Her father is exceptionally well drawn and Warner does a great job of showing how he, too, is caught by his past and held back from fully investing in his present relationships, with his friends, wife and daughter.

This is a novel about intergenerational trauma, women’s power and finding one’s voice. It’s about love and the importance of sharing stories. An ambitious novel in both content and style, it’s well worth the extra effort because Warner manages to bring her many plot threads together in an ending that’s both moving and satisfying.

THE SOUND OF BREAKING GLASS, by  Kirsten Warner (Mākaro Press, $35)

This article was first published in the December 8, 2018 issue of the New Zealand Listener.