"Spells out the Word of Itself, and Then Dispelling Itself": The Chaotics of Memory and the Ghost of the Novel in Jeff Noon's Falling out of Cars

By Wenaus, Andrew | Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, Spring 2012 | Go to article overview

"Spells out the Word of Itself, and Then Dispelling Itself": The Chaotics of Memory and the Ghost of the Novel in Jeff Noon's Falling out of Cars


Wenaus, Andrew, Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts


CONTEMPORARY BRITISH NOVELIST AND PLAYWRIGHT JEFF NOON IS CELEBRATED for his startlingly original debut novel, Vurt (1993). Noon's stylistically masterful work of slipstream fiction reads like an explosive hybrid of Lewis Carroll, William Gibson, Elizabeth Smart, and a Warp Records release. Since Vurt, Noon has published six novels, a collection of short stories, stage and radio plays, an avant-garde/avant texte fiction, a hypertext writing game in collaboration with Steve Beard, and a hypertext fiction in partnership with Susanna Jones, Alison MacLeod, and William Shaw. Another collaboration resulted in Noon's 2010 story "Artwork 2058: Probability Cloud," published "at the request," he writes, "of Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, to accompany her exhibition in the Tate Modern's Turbine Hall" (Noon, "Unilever"). More recently, Noon is posting atmospheric microstories on Twitter "set in Sparkletown, two years after the crash of the Digital Age" ("Aerials"). These experiments in form and intertexuality culminate in Noon's most recent full-length novel, Falling out of Cars (2002), likely his most eloquent piece of writing though arguably also his most difficult piece.

Falling out of Cars is characterized by a series of textual samples--many from the literary canon--mutated almost beyond recognition. The result is an intense sense of textual haunting and the uncanny. Reviews of the novel by Thomas L. Martin, John Berlyne, Claude Lalumiere, and others were largely enthusiastic, yet it did not generate the same explosive effect as Noon's Vurt quartet. Despite the praise from reviewers, academic critics such as Noon aficionado Andrew Butler remain silent regarding this novel. Val Gough's "A Crossbreed Loneliness? Jeff Noon's Feminist Cyberpunk" (2000) examines in impressive depth an apparent "feminist cyberpunk sensibility" in Noon's first four novels--a trajectory that she argues remains underdeveloped: "Noon's work shows that cyberpunk can begin to pursue the radical possibilities of feminist thinking. However, as long as cyberpunk's post-humanism occurs within a heterosexual matrix, its critique of existing social structures will remain necessarily limited" (Gough 126). Appearing two years after the publication of Gough's essay, Falling out of Cars, with its complex and sympathetic female narrator, would seem to fulfill those demands. Noon's self-evaluation of the novel is telling. In his notes concerning the novel, he writes: "I like to call Falling out of Cars a transcendental road novel. A journey through a strangely transformed, diseased, England.... [T]he quest is not the governing force behind the novel; these people are, to all intents and purposes, lost" ("Roots"). By designating the piece as a transcendental road novel, Noon is effectively suggesting that the work resides somewhere beyond or outside traditional narrative pathways; much like the characters in the novel, recognizable parameters of genre are lost. As the novel progresses, the conflation of the quest and the theme of loss intensifies to the point of implosion. Indeed, the reader gets the sense that the journey is progressing through a diseased England and, at once, the stages of loss and mourning.

The difficulty of Falling out of Cars is at once its appeal. The piece is, as Berlyne notes, "plotless"--at least in the traditional sense of plot. The intertextual references in the novel are abundant; the fragmented nature of the work evokes Carroll, Borges, Nabokov, Beckett, Woolf, Kerouac, Kafka, and others. Yet this intertextuality is dreamlike and constantly morphing. Evocative of the repetitive/cyclical narrative and growing distortion of Robbe-Grillet's Dans le labyrinthe/In the Labyrinth (1959), Noon's use of environmental noise as understood in information theory serves as a metaphor for the emotional state of loss. Yet, despite the turbulent subject matter, the narrative of Falling out of Cars is executed with tranquility and control. While much of Noon's earlier work balances melancholy and elegy with humor, Falling out of Cars almost exclusively expresses a sense of quietude, sadness, and meditation. …

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