“Ratner’s Star” by Don DeLillo

This is a load of bat guano.

There’s a whole class of writers who don’t want their books to be read. To express what is expressible isn’t why you write if you’re in this class of writers. To be understood is faintly embarrassing…The friction of an audience is what drives writers crazyThe more they understand, the crazier you get. You can’t let them know what you’re writing about. Once they know, you’re finished.”

I didn’t read this until I got to page 410, had I read it earlier I might have given up, if DeLillo is part of this group he describes he has succeeded as I didn’t understand a lot of the book.

His most spectacularly inventive novel” according to the New York Times. This I fear wasn’t really to my taste at all. I like plot and there wasn’t much plot here to like.

Ratner's Star

Ratner’s Star

The book is in two parts: “Adventures” and “Reflections”, it is set in a near future where the protagonist, Billy Twerlliger, is an underdevelopped teenager who is a maths prodigy, he has won a new Nobel Prize for Mathematics.

Mathematics and fiction, what could go wrong…?

Billy is called, somewhat reluctantly, to a remote laboratory (named Field Experiment Number One) to decipher a string of code believed to have come from a newly discovered planet orbiting Ratner’s Star. The code consists of  fourteen pulses, a gap, twenty eight pulses, a gap and fifty seven pulses. Nobel laureates from across the World have been drawn to the laboratory to decipher the code. Some of those working on the code go crazy, one called Endor ends up in a hole eating larvae and other creepy crawlies he finds in the ground.

Much is made of base sixty, could the signal be just a reference to the time (fifty seven seconds past 14.28)?

Billy is rather detached from the events and reminds me of another Billy, Billy Pilgrim from Slaughterhouse Five.

The second half of the book, judders with different monologues, some interesting others not.

A sample of the text:

Coming towards him was a woman wheeling a small carriage. She wore a long crystal-pleated sepia dress and was almost unendurably lovely, her face uncovered from some lost medallion, an ancient oval coin dug up and rubbed alive.”

Some parts are interesting like when one of the scientists, Maurice Wu, is crawling in a bat cave and his light goes out and he tries to remain calm despite the fear engulfing him.

Taste differs, I much prefer the Rolling Stones to The Beatles. Someone with a taste for postmodernism might love this novel, but it leaves me cold and unwilling to seek out any further works of Don DeLillo.

My rating: two out of five

A blogger named “Saul Bellow” left this comment on my original post:
Note – these are more or less the remarks I made at the American Literature Association conference in Boston in May, 2013 with the exception of some improvisation I injected concerning Bosley Crowther, Manny Farber, and Sam Peckinpah and what I believe their works can contribute to understanding DeLillo. I also used graphic examples from the films of Tarnatino and Kubrick to illustrate how auteurs repeat images from film to film.

Saul Bellow on DeLillo

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About jimholroyd365

Hi, my name is Jim, I am an Englishman living in the Georgian capital of Tbilisi. I started this blog to share my interests, my photos and to make sense of my world. I take a lot of photographs of various subjects, some of which I intend to share here. I collect diecast cars and get the same thrill at 50 as I did when I was 8, when I find a car I'm searching for, Don't worry, I have a separate blog for this hobby. Please feel free to comment and ask questions on what I blog. I am quite new to this blogging, I was inspired by reading a book, which began as a blog of a London Ambulance Driver: "Blood, Sweat and Tea". I hope my blog will be entertaining and amusing, I did try stand up comedy in the UK and had seven gigs before I left to teach English in Georgia. I love reading and so the blog will include book reviews of books as I finish them.I don't know about which direction this blog will go, I am a great believer in serendipity...let the journey begin...
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