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on 4 June 2015
“The world is full of abandoned meanings.”
White Noise takes place in a realm one small step removed from an easily recognisable reality – or “just outside the range of human apprehension”, as DeLillo puts it. On face value none of its characters or events are quite credible – the characters are too eloquent, the scenes too stage managed. Why, for example, would people choose to go out in the open on foot to escape from a toxic cloud? Why not get in their cars or simply stay barricaded in their homes? So DeLillo can give us an image of a nomad biblical exodus because Delillo wants to strip down humanity to its rudiments in this novel – the fear of death and subsequent gullibility it induces to submit to all kinds of generalised information that will keep us safe. He wants to show us how information is used to cower us into a herd mentality. The Hitler warning always stalking the outer corridors of the novel. “Put on a uniform and feel bigger, stronger, safer''.

White Noise, on the surface, is DeLillo’s most orthodox novel. First person narrative. Straightforward chronology. Mainly domestic setting. Lots of humour. The novel’s white noise is the endless stream of (mis)information we are subjected to in our lives. Data has a viral role in this novel. Data that rarely translates into wisdom. The narrator Jack Gladney’s oldest son articulates this theme brilliantly: “What can we do to make life easier for the Stone Agers? Can we make a refrigerator? Can we even explain how it works? What is electricity? What is light? We experience these things every day of our lives but what good does it do if we find ourselves hurled back in time and we can’t even tell people the basic principles much less actually make something that would improve conditions. Name one thing you could make. Could you make a simple wooden match that you could strike on a rock to make a flame? We think we’re so great and modern. Moon landings, artificial hearts. But what if you were hurled into a time warp. If a Stone Ager asked you what a nucleotide is, could you tell him? How do we make carbon paper? What is glass? If you came awake tomorrow in the Middle Ages and there was an epidemic raging, what could you do to stop it, knowing what you know about the progress of medicines and diseases? Here it is practically the twenty-first century and you’ve read hundreds of books and magazines and seen a hundred TV shows about science and medicine. Could you tell those people one little crucial thing that might save a million and a half lives?”

Children, still unencumbered by fear of death, are better (and more mysterious) filters of information in the novel than the fear-stricken adults. The adults are both blinded and deafened by the wall of white noise of ubiquitous multimedia information because “the deeper we delve into the nature of things, the looser our structure may seem to become.” The children therefore often have to resist what passes as wisdom in the parents. “The family is the cradle of the world's misinformation.”

As he becomes much more intimate with the advent of his own death Gladney begins finally to glean wisdom from information. “The air was rich with extrasensory material. Nearer to death, nearer to second sight. I continued to advance in consciousness. Things glowed, a secret life rising out of them.”
White Noise, not quite the masterpiece that is Underworld, is a brilliant achievement, his second best novel.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 25 July 2013
The first disclaimer I believe the review needs is - the book has no plot as such. If this is a problem, you are fairly unlikely to enjoy it - as demonstrated by a myriad of one and two star reviews. On the other hand, if you are willing to devote the necessary concentration to reading the book, you will find a very poignant and beautifully executed social commentary on 1980s US, which is often quite funny, too.

The book follows a somewhat bizzare cast of characters from a minor university town, with the protagonist being the Chair of Hitler studies (which must have been much more shocking a concept 30 or so years ago than now), surrounded by his fourth wife, their brood of children (from a raft of marriages), other university staff with similarly charicatured chairs and imbued with an intense fear of death.

The majority of the book is just a recreation of their day to day conversations and most if it does not particularly lead anywhere; what it does is paint a picture of the society we are increasingly finding ourselves part of, in the meantime equally applicable in a random European country, too.

The one chapter - the longest - where there is a specific event going on, namely a toxic outbreak in the town, is in my opinion a sideline, rather than the distinguishing feature but still fits adequately into the rest of the book.

As there is no plot to follow, the book requires a much more intense concentration to get the most out of, as each small element of conversation can be said to be equally important to all the rest - so no diagonal reading here.

In essence, I feel the book to definitely be one of the more accomplished pieces of writing coming from the 1980s, even if it will not appeal to many. It adds a context to such non-fiction works as Liar's Poker: Playing the Money Markets and if you liked it, something like The Mezzanine is likely to be a good next step. Just make sure you do not read the two in parallel - that may really leave you utterly confused.
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on 6 May 2018
There is something about this novel that stay with you for a long time afterwards. I have never read something that wields irony so effectively. For example, being able to take a pill to avoid the fear of death but the side-effect is that you can't pick up on irony or double-meaning. It is a novel that needs to be read and I am not sure a review can do it justice.
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on 28 September 2016
I was so looking forward to this book, with all the rave reviews and calls of 'genius'. But, I'm sorry to say, the dialogue is so awful I didn't get past the first few chapters. DeLillo writes the words of others like he is writing prose - it's completely inauthentic, and so off-putting that I couldn't get past it. What a shame.
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on 19 July 2012
It's always a pleasure to discover a book you think is brilliant by an author who has published loads of other novels you've never read. So, while Don DeLillo's Falling Man is a difficult read, it is certainly worth a retro-review.

Published in 2007, the novel follows the story of one family after the World Trade Center attacks on that horrific morning in 2001. The story begins with Keith emerging from one of the towers, burned and uncertain. He gets picked up by a passing truck and asks to be driven to his eix-wife, Lianne's home. So begins a strange reconciliation, born out of the uncertainties of that day.

While I have read a lot of poetry that was written subsequent to 9/11, this is the first novel I have read that deals with the attacks. Stylistically, I loved this book. DeLillo writes with a poignant intimacy conveyed in elegant sentences. Like all truly great writers he makes me see what it means to craft a world from words. He writes a kind of poetry.

But it is his character's reaction to events that makes it such a powerful novel. Lianne is transfixed by the television, obsessed by the names of the people who died in the attacks. She struggles to accept that faith may have influenced those responsible. She feels this loss, in a way that evokes all of her previous losses.

Indeed, her life after 9/11 becomes the experience of loss, and we get a sense of the overwhelming grief of this moment in our history. I like this. It's not a political study, but an elegy, a lament.

All the way through the spectre of the performance artist, the falling man, haunts the pages. Is this a commentary on life in a new age, or is this insensitive, designed merely to shock and to anger?

This is not a novel that sets out to express a right way of feeling, a right way of grieving, or a right way of viewing the world after 9/11. Rather it is a novel about the ongoing nature of grief, about a changed world with which his characters struggle to come to terms.

It is beautiful, it is haunting.
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on 28 May 2016
I found this really difficult to get into. In most parts it felt rambling and pointless and frankly I'm pretty glad it's over.
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on 20 November 2011
I really can't decide where I stand on this book. I found it a difficult read because it has an aloof, disconnected and dreamy style about it. I found the dialogue difficult and so naturalistic it was unnatural, if you know what I mean. And yet, four years on, several scenes from this book still play out in my mind and unsettle me. That must say something about the book.
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on 13 February 2018
Once you read one of Delillo's novels, you want to read them all.
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on 13 June 2016
The best of De Lillo's novels, anticipates so much that has happened since. Terrifying and funny in equal measure, which is the hardest thing to pull off.
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on 28 July 2014
Ann excellent exploration of what it is to live in the twentieth century, the complexities and interrelationships of the modern world, the anxieties that overwhelm us, the simple beauties that beguile us.
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