If you can read this...

A road novel by the writer Jeff Noon, published in 2002, tells the story of Marlene through her journal, full of scribblings describing her life in a day-after-tomorrow England where a strange unknown epidemic is causing perception to fail and people to lose their confidence in time and memory. The disease is everywhere, turning photos into noise, words disappear from books as they are read and machinery fails as it becomes contaminated with the infected. Mirrors are hidden away and concealed, as the sight of one's self has dire consequences.

Help is at hand from the Government, a state prescription drug, Lucidity, is available and every citizen is entitled to 3 rations a day. But Lucy, as it has known, has addictive qualities, luring its users into their own private realities, making them slowly lose all contact with the 'real' world.

The tale starts out in a car containing Marlene and two companions, fellow survivors and searchers, Peacock and Henderson. They are on a quest of sorts, commissioned by an unseen man to recover shards of a shattered mirror, which may or may not offer a solution or cure from the plague. They are heading down to the south coast of England, exploring the sea-side towns. They pick up a hitchhiker, a young girl Tupelo who becomes a surrogate-daughter figure for the bereaved Marlene.

The book is written in a stark, dream-like spiral of prose, pulling the reader deeper and deeper into Marlene's disorientation. Noon paints a desolate picture of an imaginary Britain, a reaction against the current information overload, asking how we can interpret our surroundings and our obsession with beauty. The revelation that Tupelo is unaffected by the outbreak offers both hope, but also illustrates a growing anger, as the remainder of humanity becomes spooked and crazy at those who are immune to their daily rituals.

Here, Noon has moved aside from his early Manchester works, and now encamped in Brighton this reflects his attempt to escape from what he views the SF ghetto. We have a number of eerily memorable scenes, written evocatively, pervaded by the damp of sadness and a mould of inevitability, our characters aren't going to escape unchanged from this one. One moving segment captures perfectly Marlene's grief and bereavement. I'm still not sure if this is the best place to start with on Noon, but if you are familiar with his work then you should give this ride a try.

you are alive...

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