Plume is a a novel about contemporary London, truth, and alcoholism, tinged with a darkly comic writing style and an ominous atmosphere. Jack Bick writes features for a magazine and pretends that his drinking isn’t a problem. When a column of smoke appears on the London skyline outside his office, it feels like an omen, particularly along with Jack smelling smoke all the time. He tries to ignore this and goes to interview reclusive writer Oliver Pierce, who reveals a secret about his most popular book that could save Jack’s job, if he can only get it written. Drawn into a partnership with Pierce against the city and tied to a new app that tracks people’s location, Jack must work out what is real and what is only imagination.
This is a surprising novel in many ways. It was quite slow to start and felt like it could have sparks of brilliance without a compelling plot (particularly some laugh out loud imagery and cutting depictions of London), but then turned into something much better than it first seemed. Particularly the way in which Jack’s alcoholism, which could’ve been a hackneyed trope that wasn’t really dealt with properly, was crucial and faced full on. In fact, though the book could be marketed as one about modern London and about what is real, it could just as easily be seen as a book about addiction and about how it makes people view the world. The underlying message about tech companies and big data was perhaps more predictable, but it worked well with the other plot elements, turning psychogeography into the digital as a recommendations app looks for urban myth.
What could’ve been a dull story about trying to write turned into a gripping look at addiction and space, which satirises London media culture and gentrification whilst taking its topics seriously. The desperation of living in London and the pain of addiction seem to blur, showing the psychological effect of both whilst questioning the line between truth and lies. Plume felt more than its blurb, with an unnerving sense of smoke lingering after you put it down.