I’m going to get back to schedule at some point. It might be the point where I’ve caught up with my to read list, but someday it’s going to happen. This one was a wish granted by netGalley. Here’s Jeff Noon’s The Body Library. Enjoy!

The Body Library cover

In a city where everything is stories and stories are everything, what happens when the plot shifts a little? When an infection of ideas has the potential to overturn the balance of fictional how strange can a murder case be? How strange can anything be when words flow just under the skin? It a city where stories are everything and everything is stories, what do a dead man’s whispers mean? Once upon a time a man called Nyquist followed a job right into trouble.

The Body Library is, in more ways than anything else, a story about stories. Yes, it’s still a detective story and there is still a case to be solved, but neither of those feel like the core of the book. I’m not sure that Jeff Noon meant for the mystery bits  to be as overshadowed by the story about a story bits, I haven’t read the previous Nyquist novel so this may just be part of his writing style. The nature of the book also makes it somewhat hard to dig into without spoiling it, so this one might be a little thin on details.

A big part of the story here is focused in on Melville 5, an abandoned apartment building and home to all manner of strange folk. More importantly, it’s something of a flux zone where the strangeness of Storyville is eclipsed by something more, by pages with shifting words and trees with ink flowing through their leaves. This is fascinating to me, this sort of space where reality is kind of separated from itself, just slightly tilted.

There’s a lot of slightly tilted reality to go around here. Storyville itself is a town built on tales where each person’s individual story is quite important and monitored to ensure that it doesn’t interfere with anyone else’s story. There’s a great feel to it when Nyquist is going through the city chasing a lead, just being shown the various areas of this sprawling city of words. Different parts of the city are known for different kinds of stories which feels interesting and I would like to see more of it. The city is probably my favorite part of The Body Library.

The flipside to my enjoyment of the city is the characters. There’s a flatness to the characters, I’m not sure if it’s something of the writing style or if it’s something of Nyquist as a focus character but it felt off.  Tied up in all the story elements of the book, the characters can feel less like characters and more like character sketches. Things don’t ring right emotionally. This is especially noticeably when it comes to Zelda. Nyquist has this whole thing towards her, this significance for her that doesn’t really get built up in any satisfying way but that is a driving force throughout the run of the book. The thing is, of course, that it’s a driving force I have a hard time buying into and so it feels forced.

There were some definite issues with the flow of the story. It’s worse towards the end than early on, but I think that sort of ties into the characters issue. Things feel like they could have been set up more solidly. Ideas crop up here and there, but the frame work can feel like it’s missing in places. The connections aren’t there.

Ultimately, I think I like the background elements and workings of The Body Library more than I like the actual story. There is a lot there that’s already solid, that would have been really well done, if it had been better set up. Would I read Jeff Noon again? Probably. While I had issues with some parts of the book I quite enjoyed others and would like to see what the background work in his previous Nyquist book is like. Because of that, I’m giving the body library a three out of five with the note that it only loses out on a four because of the flow issues towards the end.

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