In Rupert Thomson's new novel, Soft!, an advertising executive's half-cocked, late-night inspiration becomes an ad-campaign with a singular, sinister design in this surreal thriller about soft drinks, stress-fried ad-men, down-on-their-luck thugs, sleep study clinics and subliminal conditioning.
Imagine waking up everyday with the same thought in your mind. As you become more conscious, this idea grows into an irresistible urge that infuses your entire being. Such is the fate of Glade Spencer. Glade's undeniable compulsion is for Soft! the new, all-natural soft drink that's holding everyone in London spellbound. Perhaps it's because of the exposure. Ads for Soft! are everywhere, but Glade is on autopilot for Soft! because Soft! controls her mind.
For those who think Thomson sounds a bit half-cocked, wait. Soft! is masterfully written. Thomson exhibits his incredible talent for funky characterization throughout this surreal novel. From the homely waitress-turned-soft-drink-drone to corporate marketing heavy weights, Soft! casts an amazingly wide mouthed net into society, catching a colorful cast of characters. Only a writer as inventive as Thomson can pull together such a wide and wild bunch and not let the characters outweigh the narrative. In the end, the characters in Soft! serve an edgy thriller with political and philosophical pretenses. Thomson takes on the big issues of freedom and personal volition in a tale where accountability and morality get lost in complicated corporate power structures.
As much a dissection of power as it is a celebration of individuality, Soft! takes its cues from Huxley's Brave New World and Orwell's 1984 in order to examine humanity struggling against forces bent on controlling freedom. Though Thomson's soft drink might go down smoother than Brave New World's happy pill, soma, the song remains the same. Thomson shares Orwell and Huxley's interest in showing off disutopia's underdogs struggling this time against commercial, rather than political, foes. So think twice about drinking your next soft drink—but not about reading Rupert Thomson's latest. Thomson, undoubtedly, is in better taste.
Charles Wyrick plays in the band Stella.