Megha's Reviews > White Noise

White Noise by Don DeLillo
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Apr 07, 10

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Read in January, 2010

I am having a very difficult time trying to decide if White Noise is actually an intelligent work which I completely failed to understand. Or is it just one of those novels which try to sound all smart and deep and profound, but do not actually make much sense.

The characters are all strange, the dialogue and prose is weird. It is perhaps not rare for authors to create characters that are unsentimental, and totally incapable of having a normal conversation. But I find it difficult to appreciate such a use of artistic license if it doesn't make any point at all and serves no purpose.
On top of being obscure, the prose lacks fluidity. There are abrupt scene changes and needless interruptions of scenes. In several places, DeLillo interrupts a dialogue to throw in a bunch of brand names, unrelated to the scene, and then carries on with the dialogue again.
I think one of the things that I was very disappointed with was that DeLillo did not convincingly explain the transformation of an ordinary man (well, ordinary in DeLillio's universe) into a murderer, which is specially disappointing for a novel which revolves(or pretends to) quite a bit around human psychology.

I gave it three stars because for first 100 pages or so, Don DeLillo did succeed in making me think that he was building up to something really good. However, by the time I finished the book, I was so numbed by the absurd dialogue that I had already forgotten what it was that I had liked initially.

Few examples of meaninglessness:

"He looks like a man who finds dead bodies erotic." (This one takes the cake.)

"The point of rooms is that they are inside. No one should go into a room unless he understands this. People behave one way in rooms, another way in streets, parks and airports. To enter a room is to agree on a certain kind of behavior that takes place in rooms. This is the standard, as opposed to parking lots and beaches. It is the point of the rooms. No one should enter a room not knowing the point......" (What will I ever do without these words of wisdom!)
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Comments (showing 2-51)





message 51: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul Two stars too many.


David Two stars too few.


message 49: by Brad (new)

Brad Now, I've never read this book, Megha, so I am truly not trying to be facetious or a pain in the ass, but isn't white noise, real world white noise, meaningless? Perhaps that's what DeLillo was going for.


message 48: by Joel (new)

Joel I was once minding my own business in a bookstore when a clerk walked up to me, clutching this book, and told me I needed to read it. I humored him for a few minutes, but aside from being weirded out that he would just come up and thrust a book at me when I was clearly enjoying myself browsing, I found it strange that he had become a devotee of this book, which I found unsettling, off-putting, and... pretentious? Pedantic? Empty? I accept your number of stars but wouldn't likely give it more than 2.


message 47: by Ben (last edited Apr 07, 2010 08:33AM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben I was given this book as a gift on Thursday.


message 46: by Nick (last edited Apr 07, 2010 08:35AM) (new) - added it

Nick G It actually sounds like fun to write this way:

The point of shoes is that your feet go inside of them. No one should ever wear shoes without understanding this. People walk differently when barefoot or in flip-flops. To utilize a shoe is to accept a certain way of walking or running that will occur while in-shoe. This is the point of shoes, and no one should ever insert their foot into a shoe without knowing the point...

Deep.


message 45: by Zach (new) - rated it 2 stars

Zach I feel that this review is a perfect encapsulation of this stupid empty book:

http://www.amazon.com/review/RKBWZ5WA...


Megha Good to know that there are other people too who felt the same way about the book.

Paul, the thought of striking out a couple of stars did occur to me while writing the review. I will leave it with two stars, I guess.
Too bad there is no David review to make me see the light.


message 43: by Megha (last edited Apr 07, 2010 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Megha Brad wrote: "Now, I've never read this book, Megha, so I am truly not trying to be facetious or a pain in the ass, but isn't white noise, real world white noise, meaningless? Perhaps that's what DeLillo was goi..."

Heh. Perhaps so, but I (and most other readers I guess) do not look for meaninglessness when picking up a well-known and reputed book.
If it had to be meaningless anyway,I wish it were at least meaningless in a funny way.


message 42: by Jigar (new)

Jigar Brahmbhatt Haven't read DeLillo yet. I had a whiff that he was one of those writers who make determined assult on commertialization of everything and its effects on the psyche of an individual. I thought of starting with White Noise. Now you review has put me into a dilemma.

"He looks like a man who finds dead bodies erotic"

This ones really funny!


message 41: by Paul (new) - rated it 1 star

Paul The one really good delillo I read was Libra, which is about the Kenneday assassination conspiracy. It's a very dense difficult read, though.


message 40: by Megha (last edited Jun 03, 2010 07:24AM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Megha Jigar wrote: "Haven't read DeLillo yet. I had a whiff that he was one of those writers who make determined assult on commertialization of everything and its effects on the psyche of an individual. I thought of s..."

Jigar, the book gets several positive reviews as well. May be reading a few more reviews will help you make up your mind about this one.
(However, none of the positive reviews I read ever explained what was so great about this book)

If I ever read another DeLillo, it will probably be Libra or Mao II.


message 39: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Nick wrote: "It actually sounds like fun to write this way...Deep."

Deep, deep without a meaning.
Nick, I've borrowed your idea, because it's such a good idea.
Please excuse me if I throw my hat in the ring:

"The point of hats is that your head goes inside of them. No one should ever wear a hat without understanding this. People behave one way in hats, another way hatless. To wear a hat is to agree on a certain kind of behavior that takes place with a hat on. This is the standard, as opposed to men without hats. It is the point of hats. No one should wear a hat not knowing the point."

Although I would class myself as a big DeLillo fan, I never really know whether we should take our hats off to him or whether he is talking through his hat.
I just can't make up my mind at the drop of a hat.


Megha Brian wrote: "I kind of liked this book. I thought it was about angst, but I could be wrong. I also remember something about photographing barns (or is that "Bridges of Madison County"???)- I read it a long time..."

Ah, yes, there was something about 'The Most Photographed Barn' in this. I guess he mentioned how people were more eager to take pictures of the barn rather take a moment or two to actually look at it.


message 37: by Ian (last edited Apr 29, 2011 03:57PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus mp wrote: "Ian wrote: "Nick wrote: "It actually sounds like fun to write this way...Deep."

Deep, deep without a meaning.
Nick, I've borrowed your idea, because it's such a good idea.
Please excuse me if I th..."


A blunt, but pointed, remark, mp.


message 36: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Brian wrote: "Ian wrote: "I never really know whether we should take our hats off to him or whether he is talking through his hat..."

No need to roominate about it."


Almost missed this one, Brian.
Anyone would think we roomed together in college.
We share the same undergraduate sense of roomour.


message 35: by Ben (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Ian, this book has no heart.

Thanks, Ben


message 34: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Ben wrote: "Ian, this book has no heart.

Thanks, Ben"


I read this a long time ago, pre-GR, and can't remember its impression on me.
I started with The Names and fell in love with DeLillo, but ever since I have found myself apologising for him.
I always put the absence of heart down to the dehumanising and metaphorical role that technology in the modern world plays in his novels.
But that's just a rationalisation on my part.


message 33: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Brian wrote: "Ian wrote: "Almost missed this one, Brian
Anyone would think we roomed together in college.
We share the same undergraduate sense of roomour.
..."

Don't start any roomors!"


We are but one roomy nation united under a flag.


message 32: by Ben (last edited May 01, 2011 01:01PM) (new) - rated it 3 stars

Ben Ian, I was just messing. A lot of people love this book, and I see its appeal. I just look for other things in my novels. (I feel this way about a lot of post modernism.)


message 31: by Ian (last edited May 01, 2011 01:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Ben wrote: "Ian, I was just messing. A lot of people love this book, and I see its appeal. I just look for other things in my novels. (I feel this way about a lot of post modernism.)"

That's understood and it's not a problem.
It was actually a pretty pithy comment and deserved a response from someone who knows better than me.
I tend to suspend disbelief when it comes to DeLillo, which is not sound critical practice, and I will have to get to the bottom of my bias when I get a chance to re-read and review.
If DeLillo's gender was different, I would probably use a term with the following meaning (but which concern about offending some people's sensibilities prevents me using on GR) to describe my relationship with DeLillo:
Usually used by a third party to describe the unusual, changed behaviour of a friend who has fallen head-over-heels in love, and is celebrating that event with prodigious feats of erotic endurance. The third party is, by definition, jealous, and the protagonist is in unashamed and glorious celebration of his new-found partner in outrageous lust.
Of course, in my case, the prodigious feats of erotic endurance (and the only ones of which I am still capable) are just the act of reading his books (whether or not they have heart ;)).


Stephen M I understand the reservations. I think the book either connects with you or it doesn't. I don't really have a better explanation for it. Delillo's "weirdness" just seemed like the truth to me. Maybe it got to me because I see myself as a product of an information-saturized generation and Delillo does such a brilliant job of satirizing it.


message 29: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I re-read this book after joining GR, so I could review it.

My review is an attempt to defend it against the sceptics, but ultimately I think we need to read it with a sense of humour.


Megha Please write one, Ian.

Most likely I will give White Noise another go, but only in somewhat distant future.


Megha Oh the review is already there, I will take a look.


Shovelmonkey1 I have often struggled to reconcile myself to deciding what I actually feel about DeLillo's writing. Some stuff makes me go hmmm. And then there is the Body Artist which made me go aaaaargh!


Megha Yeah, he is a hard one to pin down. The two books of his I have read are completely different from each other, and so is my opinion of those two.


message 23: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I'm fascinated by how a few books like White Noise and American Psycho (and maybe some Murakami) sharply divide opinion amongst GRers whose views I respect.

If you're inside the DeLillo Fan Clubhouse, you/I tend to embrace new works within a tradition or a style that you're comfortable with, even if there are some small departures.

If you're not, you either dismiss them altogether or you're selective about what you like or don't like.

The latter critical approach might be more intellectually honest, but I have to say that none of his works has made me go aaaaargh!


message 22: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I should add that I got addicted to DeLillo when I first read "The Names". It convinced me he was a genius.

The main character's ex-wife is a shovel monkey, which might be of interest to Liverpudlian readers.


Shovelmonkey1 Ian wrote: "I should add that I got addicted to DeLillo when I first read "The Names". It convinced me he was a genius.

The main character's ex-wife is a shovel monkey, which might be of interest to Liverpudl..."


Thanks for flagging that one! I shall investigate forthwith... did you see my Dan Leno and the Limehouse Golem review? I dedicated it to you and Richard as the word play was inspired by seeing your exchanges on GR.


Stephen M It is interesting how some authors can be so divisive. I think it happens whenever there is someone writing in a style that is unfamiliar or unordinary. On some level or another, the reader has to believe in the work in order to enjoy it; whether that be through realistic believability—how close the story is to real life, the worst way to judge a book, in my opinion—or some kind of aesthetic realism, where, given the conditions of tone, theme and content, the reader can buy into the story being told.

I have an undying love for White Noise because, given the nature of the story being told, slightly unrealistic, philosophically driven, unrealistically intelligent characters, I take it for what it is and love every word. This may also relate to a person who is looking for different things in a novel. Some people want something more tangible and less abstract from their reading. These tend, don't mean to generalize too much, to be people interested in non-ficiton and realistic or didactic fiction. There is an element of Delillo that is concerned with tone and attitude. In an interview Delillo talks about how he plays with sentence structure, just to get the sentences to sound the way he wants. That sounds like the aesthetic choice of a poet. Thus, it may not appeal to someone who expects coherency and literal meaning on the surface. For an author like Murakami, especially, tone and attitude drive nearly all of his work. I can more than understand people who do not enjoy his work. As far as Murakami goes, there is nothing of literal or quantifiable substance—if there ever could be for literature. I can only muster a 'feeling' that I get from his work.

There are obviously many exceptions to this little dichotomy I'm describing, but I'm mostly thinking aloud and trying to understand why these authors have such diametrically opposed reactions from different readers.


Krok Zero It's a bad idea for me to get involved in these threads but I'm just popping in to say that if you (the general you, not anyone specific) didn't read White Noise as essentially a comedy, you didn't read it right.


Stephen M Krok Zero wrote: "It's a bad idea for me to get involved in these threads but I'm just popping in to say that if you (the general you, not anyone specific) didn't read White Noise as essentially a comedy, you didn't..."

I don't like to make such specific statements about 'how a book should be read' but you're quite right.


message 17: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus I agree with you about sound, Steve, but by the same token I have to agree with the sceptics that sometimes what people say to each other in DeLillo novels is more authentic to the sound of people at academic soirees than it is to the sound of blue collar barbecues.


message 16: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Krok Zero wrote: "It's a bad idea for me to get involved in these threads but I'm just popping in to say that if you (the general you, not anyone specific) didn't read White Noise as essentially a comedy, you didn't read it right."

Totally agree.


Megha Krok Zero wrote: "It's a bad idea for me to get involved in these threads but I'm just popping in to say that if you (the general you, not anyone specific) didn't read White Noise as essentially a comedy, you didn't..."

That may have been what went wrong with my reading.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I read it as a tragicomedy, I guess, and I love-love-loved it.


message 13: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus Joshua Nomen-Mutatio wrote: "I read it as a tragicomedy, I guess, and I love-love-loved it."

Good point, Josh, though I think there was a happy ending for the Gladney family, but not necessarily for earth or the rest of humanity.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I took the ruminations on death very, very seriously.


message 11: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian Paganus The Gladneys "progressed" from rumination to illumination.

We all need to sit down and watch the sunset.


message 10: by mark (new) - rated it 5 stars

mark monday you didn't give this one 5 stars after all... i just knew that fake-memory was lying to me!


Megha Let your fake memory keep lying to you about this one. Everything will be better when I rate Titus Groan, I promise.


William This is a comic novel. A satire.


Megha William wrote: "This is a comic novel. A satire."

Yes, that's what I hear. Somehow it didn't come across that way to me.
Anyway, I read this long ago, when I hadn't even heard of the term postmodern. I might see it differently if I were to read it now.


William Hey, I can't read Gravity's Rainbow or The Savage Detectives. It's odd how some books just don't let one in. Wish I could explain that one.


Megha William wrote: "Hey, I can't read Gravity's Rainbow or The Savage Detectives. It's odd how some books just don't let one in. Wish I could explain that one."

I know! That's specially mind-boggling when you go in almost entirely sure of liking a book based on your friends' ratings. The same thing happened to me with Infinite Jest recently.


William I empathize!


message 3: by Karen (last edited Jun 15, 2014 05:03AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Karen Maybe some of you just didn't get the humor? For me this was a laugh out loud book.


message 2: by Megha (last edited Jun 09, 2014 06:08PM) (new) - rated it 2 stars

Megha Karen wrote: "Maybe some of you just didn't get tge humor? For me this was a laugh out loud book."

Yeah, I for sure didn't find it funny.


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