I was called a cult writer in the 70s, when that meant that very few people were reading me.
As Vince Passaro noted in 1991, ‘until 1985 . . . Don DeLillo was something of a cipher. He had for years been the kind of writer whose books commanded front-page reviews but still managed not to sell. He was well known in literary circles, and to a small, devoted following, but the chiselled sentences and prescient terrors of his fiction made him difficult to promote’.
All that would change, when White Noise, his eighth novel, won the National Book Award in America. It brought DeLillo a whole new readership. Picador published White Noise in January 1986, the first of his novels in the United Kingdom, and as this selection from contemporary reviews proves, British critics immediately hailed it as a work of astonishing originality, wit and dark power.
‘Don DeLillo in White Noise exposes the absurdities of contemporary American existence . . . DeLillo’s novel achieves an amazing, sometimes macabre comedy in its extraordinary language and weird domestic detail’
Catherine Knight, Daily Mail, 16 January 1986
‘Nobody in search of a little new-year cheer could complain that Don DeLillo’s novel isn’t funny, though it’s likely to leave the nerves in a worse state than it finds them . . . To be so alarming, horrifying and funny in the same breath is quite an achievement, and the dialogue carries the tech jargon like a sort of epidemic.’
Norman Shrapnel, Guardian, 16 January 1986
‘White Noise inhabits the strange genetic border country where social comedy meets science fiction and the macabre, its dialogue is splendidly funny and its domestic observation wickedly precise. Marriage, family relationships, campus life and small town culture all squirm beneath its sardonic gaze. At the same time the atmosphere of modern Mid-Western life is delicately evoked.’
Nicholas Shrimpton, Sunday Times, 26 January 1986
Don DeLillo has written an extraordinarily funny book on a serious subject, effortlessly combining social comedy, disaster fiction and philosophy. A curious mixture, but it is hilarious, and grimly successful.
‘White Noise is an extraordinarily interesting novel by an American writer at the peak of his powers . . . In part the book is a wacky campus satire of the familiar type. But DeLillo is also attempting something more ambitious, which is to examine the ways in which American culture (or media culture in general) alienates people from their own experiences . . . An alarming and very funny book.’
John Field, Books and Bookmen, February 1986
‘A peculiarly American blend of perplexed humanity and high technology gives a marvellously comic cutting edge to Don DeLillo’s White Noise . . . The novel is terrifying as well as funny. It is also deeply humane. A disturbing and compelling book, which haunts the imagination long after the reading is finished.’
New Statesman, 7 November 1986