The Glass Woman

By Alice Mcilroy

The Glass Woman, a novel by Alice Mcilroy
Book details

It can feel at times like the entire world is out to get you, but who is the person you must watch out for the most? Your family, spouse, work colleagues? Nope, the biggest saboteur is often yourself. Your own thoughts and deeds coming back to haunt you. Iris Henderson has it worse than most as she cannot remember who is to blame after undertaking experimental brain surgery. Can she get her memories back or will she always feel like The Glass Woman

Iris wakes up in a quiet hospital with a sense of self, but not much else. Who is this man visiting her and why can she not remember the past few years? Iris has volunteered for an ambitious new brain surgery that implanted an AI directly into her brain, its job to filter through which memories should return and which to wipe forever to best aid in Iris's mental health. Who gets to decide what is best for Iris? Certainly not Iris. 

Gaslighting has been a part of mystery books long before the film came along and gave it a name. Half of Agatha Christie’s output is about people doubting their own memories. The tradition is someone to suspect that their loved one is manipulating them, they may be aware that is happening or oblivious. Glass by Alice McIlroy is a multilayered gaslight of a book as there are so many people who could be potentially gaslighting Iris, both externally and internally. 

In the outside world we have a suspicious husband, colleagues who are keeping things to themselves and a multinational corporation who are keeping a close eye on Iris's progress with their new AI treatment. This would be enough for more mystery novels as there are plenty of suspects. In these sections the book is a standard pot boiler, but this is not just a thriller mystery, it is also speculative fiction. 

Here a line must be drawn between speculative and science fiction. Where does one start and the other end? Personally, I see them as the same, just how science fictiony they are. A character who has an AI that talks to them, who is holding back memories - this is science fiction to me. The central AI premise is so central to Glass that it borders more in the realm of science fiction than a straight thriller. Without the internal conflict that Iris has with her AI therapist, the book would not have the difference needed for it to stand out. It is Iris's refusal to stop fighting to know the truth that drives the book. Some of this comes from her confronting her husband et al, but most is an internal battle. 

I can see fans of Before I Go to Sleep or Memento enjoying the book, exploring the holes in Iris's memories, and helping her to discover the truth, but Glass is one step further than this, full on science fiction elements are central to the plot. The Black Mirror comparisons is very apt. As a fan of both genres, I found a lot to enjoy, although I do feel like I figured out a few twists before they happened. I would recommend this book to someone looking for a good potboiler with a sharper technology edge than they may be used to.

Written on 2nd January 2024 by .

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