(Doubleday, £12.99, 345 pages, hardcover; published in November 2002.)
Ever since the release of Vurt -- the author's 1993cult-hit debut novel -- Jeff Noon's work has been consistently idiosyncratic, strange, and uncompromising. His eighth book, Falling out of Cars, is no exception.
Something bizarre has happened to the world. Time and memory are now unreliable. Printed words are disappearing as soon as they are read. Music can only be perceived as random cacophony. Technology can become infected with "noise" that makes it break down. Photos are nothing but patternless visual data. Mirrors are dangerous, even deadly. There's a drug, Lucidity, that can help people shake off some aspects of the condition.
Falling out of Cars is a road novel set in this near-future world where information-based civilization is falling apart. It follows the journey of Marlene, Henderson, and Peacock as they drive around England on a mission for the mysterious Kingsley. They are trying to gather fragments of a mirror that may be at the heart of the world's affliction. Along the way, they encounter a young woman, Tupelo, who is among the few who are immune to the strange disease: she can read time, listen to music, and so forth.
Falling out of Cars is the record Marlene keeps -- or tries to keep -- of her quest to flee from her tragic past. Despite her daily dose of Lucidity, Marlene is gradually succumbing to the malady, and it gets harder and harder to distinguish dream from reality, hallucinations from events. The narrative follows her breakdown, gets increasingly fractured into nearly incoherent fragments whose meaning is elusive yet tantalizingly almost graspable.
Noon's use of language is rich and evocative. Falling out of Cars -- exploring what happens to identity when the symbols that define it cease to make sense -- shimmers with unexplained and intriguing mysteries.
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© Claude Lalumière 22 March 2003, 7 June 2003