Soft by Rupert Thomson

Readers may be aware of my growing fondness for Rupert Thomson after I read his excellent Divided Kingdom last year. I vowed to make my way through his previous books. So far I’ve read The Insult and The Book of Revelations. Soft makes my fourth Thomson novel. I’d say that this is not his best work, but interesting nonetheless. One of the things I appreciate about Thomson the most is that each book is different. His plots differ radically.

Soft tells the story of three different characters with intertwined fates revolving around a new soft drink. In the first section, we meet Barker Dodds, former night club and barber. After some unpleasantness with a local family that thinks he killed one of their family members, he flees Plymouth for London, where he ends up with a job as a barber, but not before making friends with an unsavory character. Dodds can’t escape his violent past—and he knows it. Eventually he accepts a “job” before he even knows what it is, to kill a woman named Glade Spencer.

The next section follows Glade and tells the story of why Dodds must kill her. She’s an artist/waitress with an American boyfriend. Glade never seems connected with the real world, almost like an observer rather than a participant. When her boyfriend Tom invites her to a wedding in New Orleans, she accepts and then has to scrounge up money to buy a dress. Little does she know that by agreeing to participate in a sleep study, her life would change forever.

Then we move on to the third character, an ad executive named Jimmy Lynch. He finds himself the protege of his new American boss, who was brought in as a hired gun. Jimmy’s new ad campaign for Kwench! sets the whole plot in motion.

Glade, Dodds, and Jimmy’s stories come together in the last two sections of the book, though Jimmy never meets Dodds or Glade face to face. Thomson obviously means Soft to be a comment on consumer culture, yet it’s also a mystery. Even with such finely developed characters, the plot seems improbable, but I still found myself reading it eagerly.