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November 2002
2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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Falling Out of Cars by Jeff Noon
ransworld Doubleday Hardcover: ISBN
0385602960 PubDate Nov 02
Review by John Berlyne
352 pages List price
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Jeff Noon is on those genre writers whose shadow is cast widely upon a more literary landscape - or perhaps that should be the other way round. I have no idea if Noon considers himself a genre writer, but there are certainly sfnal elements to his work that link him firmly to the traditions. Comparisons to writers like J.G.Ballard are therefore most apt, but here too is writer that has been compared to Philip Larkin and given the linguistic tone of Noon's work I'd put money on him becoming poet laureate before he wins a Hugo! He is worthy of both accolades.

Falling Out of Cars is an extraordinary piece of writing. Ostensibly a road novel set in Britain, it is a loosely plotless story written in diary form. The Britain in question has a post-apocalyptic feel to it, the citizens having fallen prey to a condition called "The Noise," something that disturbs one's perception of self and thus prohibits the ability to concentrate and even to look at one's reflection. Our protagonist, Marlene, lost her daughter to this plague and is now driving round the country, accompanied by the colourful people she's picked up along the way, in an apparent quest for pieces of a pseudo-magical mirror. The whys and wherefores of this are never fully explained, neither are the true origins of "The Noise". Instead this novel concentrates on atmosphere and ideas with Noon taking the reader through a series of dream-like and often surreal scenes in which he examines the nature of self.

Early in the book Marlene writes, "Reflections. Spirits in the glass. Images, the human expression. Our personal experience. The Face, oh, the face; this strange object that daily we examined, for marks, creases, evidence of time's passing, for beauty, ugliness. All hidden now, turned away from. And when was the last time I looked at myself, truly?" This forms the crux of Falling Out of Cars.

Noon paints a desolate, dark vision for the reader, both inside his characters and in the locations they visit. Marlene at one point, finds herself in "The Museum of Fragile Things," a place of stunning and haunting beauty where the exhibits are almost painful in their fragility. She drives to a seaside town where the machines in the entertainment arcades play only an "electronic sorrow". Indeed the language employed by Noon to depict the looping and hallucinogenic narrative gives this the feeling of a prose poem rather than a novel. It is filled with Pinteresque dialogue, peppered with non-sequiturs and eerily disturbing scenes that read like a literary puzzle. A highly recommended novel that will keep you thinking long after you've finished it.

sfr3d.gif (19860 bytes) 2002 Ernest Lilley / SFRevu
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