The Body Library. Book Review

THE BODY LIBRARY by Jeff Noon
Angry Robot, p/b, 384pp, £8.99.
Reviewed by Chris Limb

Having fled the ruins of his previous life in the twin cities of Dayzone and Nocturna, private detective John Henry Nyquist sets up shop in Storyville, and before long is already on another case. This time he’s been hired by an investigative agency to shadow the mysterious Patrick Wellborn and keep track of his movements. To follow, observe and report back but on no account engage.

Without fully understanding why, Nyquist ends up standing over the dead body of his quarry, having just murdered him. Along with Zelda Courtland he goes on the run – but seems unable to even leave the scene of the crime, tower block Melville 5.

In Storyville—a city where the citizens are simultaneously readers, writers and characters, playing out their parts in each other’s tales—there is no escaping the narrative.

In its predecessor (A Man of Shadows) the noir archetype of John Nyquist was set against the contrasting background of the twin cities of day and night; here in The Body Library his stereotypical nature is integral to the plot, deconstructed by the meta-textual background of a city in which no matter how hard he tries to fight against it, his path is forced down certain routes almost as if someone else is in charge and he is a mere character…

At first—on the surface —Storyville sounds like a good place to live, a perpetual year round literary festival. However, as the pages turn it becomes clear that this is not a mere designation awarded by a cultural body but part of the fabric of the city itself, warping reality and calling existence itself into question.

The novel also addresses deep questions of personality, consciousness and self; are we no more than he stories we tell ourselves and other people? If that is the case, can these stories take on life independently from us and carry on even after we’ve died? And what if someone else takes over publication and tries to use us for their own ends?

These metaphysical enigmas become very real to Nyquist, Zelda and many other members of the population that the reader meets along the way. Characters and situations are split, refracted and reflected. Once again our protagonist is so harshly put through the wringer (both physically and psychological) that the reader will find themselves wincing. Yet so engaging is the story that they will be unable to turn their eyes and brain away.

By writing a novel set in literature itself the author has created a new psychedelic meta-genre as well as a fantastic story that sticks in the mind long after the novel itself is read.

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