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White Noise - Don Delillo
Member Name: phill@leeds
White Noise - Don Delillo
Date: 01/07/03, updated on 12/07/03 (508 review reads)
While not being one for literary critique (I feel I can't achieve justice), 'White Noise' has captured my mind (and in places, my heart) enough to compel a review. This is my first encounter with the renowned, erudite force that is Don DeLillo, and I will further champion his efforts by adding another few titles to my (increasingly sophisticated!) collection. For those in-the-know, I understand White Noise shows DeLillo in fine fettle; for newbie's, he seems to be one to check out, if only because the author of my favourite books recommended him (David Mitchell).
The book was strangely written in 1985. I say strangely because I thought it to be quite new - this says a lot for its profundity and pertinence to modern 'Americana' (the title of another of DeLillo's novels). White Noise is an intellectual offering though far from being impenetrable, it makes for enjoyable reading. It is saturated with ideas, psychological propositions and thick satire, launched heavily at the American neurosis.
White Noise deals with death; in fact it is death - "what is death if nothing but sound? Electrical noise...Uniform, white." The lead protagonists Jack Gladney and his wife Babette concern themselves with "who will die first?". Jack's son Heinrich seems to revel in the impeding doom that is 'the airborne toxic event', to which his father is an unwitting victim and the drug Dylar features heavily. DeLillo himself sees, "almost a metaphysical connection between the craft of acting and the fear we all have of dying". This goes someway to understanding the manner in which writes here.
The book is far from gloomy and much insight is drawn into the fears, ideas and behaviour of the quite absorbing characters. For me, the most absorbing characters are the family siblings (especially Heinrich) who seem extraordinarily bright and judicious. Sometimes I felt the book was written as the promot
ion of children; for their hidden depths and significance - "Self pity is something that children are very good at, which must mean it is natural and important"!
White Noise is neither a tract nor diatribe; it never deviates too far from what fiction does best (telling a story). DeLillo manages to charter the events of the family microcosm, in a small American settlement, while abstracting these innovative and ingenious assaults on various topics; see the line which sums up the book "In the commonplace I find unexpected themes and intensities" and the pertinence of consumerism (Jack's friend lectures in "anything from music to cereal packets" and the Supermarket is a fundamental location). Overall, it is a book of rumours, weirdness, dailiness, metaphysics, Hitler, family, transcendence and shifting textures, written in an engaging, cerebal, measured and funny ("It wasn't Death that stood before me but only Vernon Dickey, my father in-law") way.