A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

A Man of Shadows by Jeff Noon

Read June 2021
★  ★  

In the end, it comes down to feeling, as much as it pains me to say, and this was solidly uninteresting. Whether an unlikeable protagonist, stock characterization, or predictable plotting, I couldn’t say. Remember when you were young, playing with toys and spent all morning setting up your Lego world/Barbies/miniature houses, but then quit playing an hour after the story finally started? That’s this book. 

Our [insert stock here] hard-boiled detective takes the case to find the [insert trope] missing girl (who is, indeed, referred to as a girl). It takes him to Burnout, the last stop both literally and figuratively, in the Dayzone, an area devoted to light. Noon loves this idea so much that he interrupts his story to give us an excerpt from ‘Guide Book: The City of Lights:’

As the traveller enters Dayzone, a constant haze will be seen over the streets, caused by the many billions of light sources the city uses in its tireless quest for brightness. The sky, the real sky, which even the oldest residents cannot remember seeing, is hidden behind a vast tangled web of neon signs, fluorescent images, fiery lamps, gas flames, polished steel struts, and decorative mosaics of glass. Light cascades from this canopy, its radiant chaotic beams caught, reflected, multiplied, back and forth between the shining walls of the office blocks and municipal buildings. Lower down, further sources of illumination are fixed to every available surface, adding their own brilliance to the city. Chinese lanterns swing from cables stretched across the roads, floodlights bathe the scene, powerful spotlights follow cars and pedestrians as they move along.

But this is not enough; next stop is a bar in Shimmer Town, where the reader is to learn about time. “Chronostasis. The syndrome was becoming more prevalent. Some Dayzone residents got so confused by all the different kinds of time on offer, their minds couldn’t take it anymore. Time slowed down to zero, a space where nothing ever happened.” We also learn about the serial killer Quicksilver, who is able to kill someone in between one moment and the next without being seen.

Clearly all these things will eventually come together, and just as clearly, light and time are giant metaphors. The girl, Eleanor, is found, then lost, and when Nyquist decides he needs to become her protector, I tried to settle in for a rehash of Senlin Ascends, another book I bounced off of.

Breaking down the why is not easy. It does come together in the end, in a way that should be satisfying. But by then it was so profoundly uninteresting to me. Did I get tired of the tour through Dusk, the in-between from Night to Day? Did I develop antipathy for Nyquist’s growing time-lag turning him erratic and paranoid? Did I find the overt symbolism tiresome? Did I once again tire of the female as holy grail plotting? Was the weird for weirdness’ sake a chore?

It could be all of these things. When I stalled out around page 100, I set it down for a month, hoping that it was a mood-based rejection. But I fared little better after a hiatus, and only finished through sheer stubbornness and a switch to skim mode. Though Noon, by other reports, operates in the New Weird along with Miéville and VanderMeer, he lacks Miéville’s momentum and build, and VanderMeer’s commitment to the unfamiliar and strange. This time, New Weird didn’t take.

About thebookgator

avid reader and Goodreads reviewer looking for a home.
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