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Falling Out of Cars

by Jeff Noon

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Falling Out of Cars by Jeff Noon
Doubleday UK

Jeff Noon's most recent book, Falling Out of Cars, has not been published in the United States. The official story is that it simply hasn't found a publisher. After even a cursory reading, it seems more likely that the Food and Drug Administration is withholding their approval pending an infinite series of tests. I'm surprised that Customs isn't seizing copies of the book at the border; currently, Falling Out of Cars can be delivered to U.S. addresses from Amazon.co.uk and other fine establishments on the far side of the Atlantic Ocean. (Copies do occasionally show up on various resale sites within the US, so check around for bargains.)

Since his first novel more than a decade ago, Noon's twin loci have been drugs and music. Vurt, his debut, was something of a page-turner set in near-future Manchester, where brightly-colored feathers placed on one's tongue served as gateways to a series of virtual worlds.
His second and so-far best novel, Pollen, posits the breakdown of the barrier between the 'real' and feather worlds-but what really brought the book to life were the deftly-drawn characters and their rich emotional lives. This is speculative fiction, in that it postulates a world-view that stretches our understanding, but the characters' tragedies are moving and deeply felt.

Falling Out of Cars continues Noon's program of literature as drug. The world is contemporary Britain, or nearly so-a virus has been let loose that interferes with its victims' ability to interpret symbolic representations: words drift away on pages, street signs lose their iconic meanings, photographs blur beyond recognition, and mirrors have become a gateway to madness. Even something as normal as wallpaper is transformed into something foreign and incomprehensible:

"I stepped back a little, moving along the wall. I was searching for the pattern's repetition; that point where a certain discrete arrangement of flowers, of stems and petals, would be seen again, and then again. But there were no repeated motifs, none that I could see, not even when and where a new line of paper began." (p. 185)

The story is told in fragments, purportedly the diary of Marlene Moore, whose ability to read what she has written is virtually nonexistent, except under the intermittent influence of the 'Lucidity' drug. The effect, therefore, is that we perceive the story through the effects of the virus itself, whose changes resemble an atavistic return to Julian Jaynes' conception of the "bicameral mind," down to the voices in the head that victims-and Noon's readers-experience.

The experience of reading Falling Out of Cars is not only fragmentary and disorienting, but there is the feeling of a larger point lurking beneath the surface. Is the virus a symbol of larger cultural forces at work? Does it represent The Media, and the media's destructive impact on individuals and their self-conceptions? Music is strangely absent; his last novel, Needle in the Groove, was focused on an alternate vision of the Manchester music scene, but perhaps his connection between music and writing was Manchester-specific, and the broader setting of this novel works against integrating music. Music does exist in Falling Out of Cars, but it has been rendered into unrecognizable pieces, decomposed and undeveloped, much like the novel's themes.

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