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Needle in the Groove by Jeff Noon
(Anchor, paperback, 288 pages, 9.99.)
Accompanying audio CD - in collaboration with David Toop, Sulphur Records.

Jeff Noon is an undisputed master of the unconventional, a science fiction writer who has appeal outside the genre, a rare thing and even rarer for a British writer. Noon wears his roots and geographical location on his sleeve, and it will come as no surprise to those of you familiar with his work to hear that his latest book is set in.... Manchester. Needle in the Groove comes hard on the heels of that dense slice of Noon's shorter works, Pixel Juice, and shares publisher and mod cover design.

Needle in the Groove is rooted firmly in Noon's love of dance and drug culture and those without a knowledge of the background may find the jargonising and shortcuts confusing. The book appears to have been marketed on the strength of its unconventional format but on reading it is surprisingly linear and conventional in its approach, the only apparent nonconformity being the novel approach to punctuation - very little of it, normal paragraph structure replaced, for the most part, with slashes. This works surprisingly well, complementing the choppy prose.

The story centres on Elliot, a bass player who stumbles across weird band who appear to have discovered a liquid drug containing continuously remixing dance music. When 2spot, the enigmatic drummer and heart of the band, disappears, Elliot tries to track him down and becomes involved in an epic quest that involves Manchester's heritage as a city of music, the days of punk and acid house, and 2spot's family skeletons.

As a long standing Jeff Noon fan I always look forward to new releases from him, and I was not disappointed by this one, it is fast moving and dynamic and although not as different as his publishers would have us believe, sufficiently different all the same. If you have enjoyed his previous work then you are likely to enjoy this, however to a Noon virgin it is probably not the best place to start (try Vurt for that). It is accompanied by an audio CD featuring Noon reading passages from the book in his broad Manchester accent, an absolute delight, with ambient music by David Toop. I don't think the CD actually comes with the book so if you're interested contact the distributor 3mv on 020 7378 8866.

Review by Noel K Hannan.

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© Noel K Hannan 11 November 1999