Violet wells's Reviews > White Noise

White Noise by Don DeLillo
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it was amazing
bookshelves: faves, contemporary-american-fiction

“The world is full of abandoned meanings.”
White Noise takes place in a realm one small step removed from an easily recognisable reality – or “just outside the range of human apprehension”, as DeLillo puts it. On face value none of its characters or events are quite credible – the characters are too eloquent, the scenes too stage managed. Why, for example, would people choose to go out in the open on foot to escape from a toxic cloud? Why not get in their cars or simply stay barricaded in their homes? So DeLillo can give us an image of a nomad biblical exodus because Delillo wants to strip down humanity to its rudiments in this novel – the fear of death and subsequent gullibility it induces to submit to all kinds of generalised information that will keep us safe. He wants to show us how information is used to cower us into a herd mentality. The Hitler warning always stalking the outer corridors of the novel. “Put on a uniform and feel bigger, stronger, safer''.


White Noise, on the surface, is DeLillo’s most orthodox novel. First person narrative. Straightforward chronology. Mainly domestic setting. Lots of humour. The novel’s white noise is the endless stream of (mis)information we are subjected to in our lives. Data has a viral role in this novel. Data that rarely translates into wisdom. The narrator Jack Gladney’s oldest son articulates this theme brilliantly: “What can we do to make life easier for the Stone Agers? Can we make a refrigerator? Can we even explain how it works? What is electricity? What is light? We experience these things every day of our lives but what good does it do if we find ourselves hurled back in time and we can’t even tell people the basic principles much less actually make something that would improve conditions. Name one thing you could make. Could you make a simple wooden match that you could strike on a rock to make a flame? We think we’re so great and modern. Moon landings, artificial hearts. But what if you were hurled into a time warp. If a Stone Ager asked you what a nucleotide is, could you tell him? How do we make carbon paper? What is glass? If you came awake tomorrow in the Middle Ages and there was an epidemic raging, what could you do to stop it, knowing what you know about the progress of medicines and diseases? Here it is practically the twenty-first century and you’ve read hundreds of books and magazines and seen a hundred TV shows about science and medicine. Could you tell those people one little crucial thing that might save a million and a half lives?”



Children, still unencumbered by fear of death, are better (and more mysterious) filters of information in the novel than the fear-stricken adults. The adults are both blinded and deafened by the wall of white noise of ubiquitous multimedia information because “the deeper we delve into the nature of things, the looser our structure may seem to become.” The children therefore often have to resist what passes as wisdom in the parents. “The family is the cradle of the world's misinformation.”


As he becomes much more intimate with the advent of his own death Gladney begins finally to glean wisdom from information. “The air was rich with extrasensory material. Nearer to death, nearer to second sight. I continued to advance in consciousness. Things glowed, a secret life rising out of them.”
White Noise, not quite the masterpiece that is Underworld, is a brilliant achievement, his second best novel.
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Quotes Violet Liked

Don DeLillo
“It is possible to be homesick for a place even when you are there.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“The family is the cradle of the world’s misinformation. There must be something in family life that generates factual error. Over-closeness, the noise and heat of being. Perhaps even something deeper like the need to survive. Murray says we are fragile creatures surrounded by a world of hostile facts. Facts threaten our happiness and security. The deeper we delve into things, the looser our structure may seem to become. The family process works towards sealing off the world. Small errors grow heads, fictions proliferate. I tell Murray that ignorance and confusion can’t possibly be the driving forces behind family solidarity. What an idea, what a subversion. He asks me why the strongest family units exist in the least developed societies. Not to know is a weapon of survival, he says. Magic and superstition become entrenched as the powerful orthodoxy of the clan. The family is strongest where objective reality is most likely to be misinterpreted. What a heartless theory, I say. But Murray insists it’s true.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“That's why people take vacations. No to relax or find excitement or see new places. To escape the death that exists in routine things.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“He'd once told me that the art of getting ahead in New York was based on learning how to express dissatisfaction in an interesting way. The air was full of rage and complaint. People had no tolerance for your particular hardship unless you knew how to entertain them with it.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“The smoke alarm went off in the hallway upstairs, either to let us know the battery had just died or because the house was on fire.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“In these night recitations we create a space between things as we felt them at the time and as we speak them now. This is the space reserved for irony, sympathy and fond amusement, the means by which we rescue ourselves from the past.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“It’s like we've been flung back in time," he said. "Here we are in the Stone Age, knowing all these great things after centuries of progress but what can we do to make life easier for the Stone Agers? Can we make a refrigerator? Can we even explain how it works? What is electricity? What is light? We experience these things every day of our lives but what good does it do if we find ourselves hurled back in time and we can’t even tell people the basic principles much less actually make something that would improve conditions. Name one thing you could make. Could you make a simple wooden match that you could strike on a rock to make a flame? We think we’re so great and modern. Moon landings, artificial hearts. But what if you were hurled into a time warp and came face to face with the ancient Greeks. The Greeks invented trigonometry. They did autopsies and dissections. What could you tell an ancient Greek that he couldn’t say, ‘Big Deal.’ Could you tell him about the atom? Atom is a Greek word. The Greeks knew that the major events in the universe can’t be seen by the eye of man. It’s waves, it’s rays, it’s particles."
“We’re doing all right.”
“We’re sitting in this huge moldy room. It’s like we’re flung back.”
“We have heat, we have light.”
“These are Stone Age things. They had heat and light. They had fire. They rubbed flints together and made sparks. Could you rub flints together? Would you know a flint if you saw one? If a Stone Ager asked you what a nucleotide is, could you tell him? How do we make carbon paper? What is glass? If you came awake tomorrow in the Middle Ages and there was an epidemic raging, what could you do to stop it, knowing what you know about the progress of medicines and diseases? Here it is practically the twenty-first century and you’ve read hundreds of books and magazines and seen a hundred TV shows about science and medicine. Could you tell those people one little crucial thing that might save a million and a half lives?”
“‘Boil your water,’ I’d tell them.”
“Sure. What about ‘Wash behind your ears.’ That’s about as good.”
“I still think we’re doing fairly well. There was no warning. We have food, we have radios.”
“What is a radio? What is the principle of a radio? Go ahead, explain. You’re sitting in the middle of this circle of people. They use pebble tools. They eat grubs. Explain a radio.”
“There’s no mystery. Powerful transmitters send signals. They travel through the air, to be picked up by receivers.”
“They travel through the air. What, like birds? Why not tell them magic? They travel through the air in magic waves. What is a nucleotide? You don’t know, do you? Yet these are the building blocks of life. What good is knowledge if it just floats in the air? It goes from computer to computer. It changes and grows every second of every day. But nobody actually knows anything.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise

Don DeLillo
“I think it's a mistake to lose one's sense of death, even one's fear of death. Isn't death the boundary we need? Doesn't it give a precious texture to life, a sense of definition? You have to ask yourself whether anything you do in this life would have beauty and meaning without the knowledge you carry of a final line, a border or limit.”
Don DeLillo, White Noise


Reading Progress

February 18, 2014 – Shelved
February 15, 2015 – Started Reading
February 27, 2015 – Finished Reading
August 25, 2015 – Shelved as: faves
November 5, 2015 – Shelved as: contemporary-american-fiction

Comments Showing 1-16 of 16 (16 new)

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message 1: by PGR (new)

PGR Nair This book has been sitting with me for ore than 20 years and I am yet to read it! Your lovely review has taken me nearer to it:) Thanks Violet.


Violet wells Thanks. Highly recommend it. Forgot to say how funny it often is too.


Justin Starting part three of the book now. I've underlined so many things and really taken my time finishing it. Best book I've read in a while so far.


Violet wells He writes such beautiful sentences that often you have to read them twice to really savour them. It gets better as well, Justin.


Elyse (semi hiatus) Walters Wow!!!!!!!! Viva-la-Violet! 5 star-fabulous review!!! I guess I ought to consider reading this!


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Wow!!!!!!!! Viva-la-Violet! 5 star-fabulous review!!! I guess I ought to consider reading this!"

Ha ha. Most of my five star books i read before I started doing reviews which is a shame. I suspect the only contender for five stars of the books I'm soon to read will be Purity.


Elyse (semi hiatus) Walters Awwww. But white Noise does sound good!


7jane PGR wrote: "This book has been sitting with me for ore than 20 years and I am yet to read it! Your lovely review has taken me nearer to it:) Thanks Violet."

I have read it too, and it's a really good read. The mood was very interesting :)


Elyse (semi hiatus) Walters Violet- did you read this more this once? I'm thinking of starting it soon - again - after I read David Grossman's new book.
And? Do you plan to read the new book by Haybittle? I noticed he has a new book out.


message 10: by Violet (last edited Feb 28, 2017 05:11AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Violet- did you read this more this once? I'm thinking of starting it soon - again - after I read David Grossman's new book.
And? Do you plan to read the new book by Haybittle? I noticed he has a n..."


I’ve read it twice, Elyse. I think you’ll like it better than Underworld. It’s probably the best introduction to DeLillo. Yep, I'll probably read the new Haybittle novel. What are you up to today? I’ve got a migraine so will probably spend the afternoon with Saul Bellow in the bath!


Angela M Fantastic review, Violet . I read this and others by DeLillo a number of years ago . Fantastic writer!


Violet wells Angela M wrote: "Fantastic review, Violet . I read this and others by DeLillo a number of years ago . Fantastic writer!"

Thanks Angela. Yep, he's one of my favourites.


Elyse (semi hiatus) Walters Violet -- Your review is so darn good....and you are so much smarter than I am.....(love that you are too) -- I'm just feeling 'old' --
but I couldn't stop laughing --and am I crazy to think that this book might have read different to me 20 years ago than it does to me now? --You think DeLillo himself would write this book different today?


Violet wells Elyse wrote: "Violet -- Your review is so darn good....and you are so much smarter than I am.....(love that you are too) -- I'm just feeling 'old' --
but I couldn't stop laughing --and am I crazy to think that t..."


All books probably have an ideal reader age, don't you think? I'm not sure at what stage in life this one would most appeal though. You have more experience with its central themes - married and parental life - than I do so you're probably in a better position to ascertain how pertinent or wise its preoccupations are. It's quite possible it's essentially preposterous fun with some nuggets of wisdom thrown in for good measure! It's possibly his most critically acclaimed novel though I wouldn't say it's his best writing. And you could also argue that he's a much better sentence writer than he is a novelist.


message 15: by Andi (new) - rated it 5 stars

Andi I just finished this and your review is fabulous!


Violet wells Andi wrote: "I just finished this and your review is fabulous!"

Thanks Andi.


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