Blackbox: A Novel in 840 Chapters is an impressive debut novel for author Nick Walker. It takes twenty separate characters and interconnects them via a tragedy that happened twenty years earlier: as a woman named Lin stows away on an airplane from Hong Kong to England, she freezes to death and falls out of the underbelly as the plane’s landing gear descends. The subsequent years show how every other character is affected by this event. Walker tells the story in such a way that it does not come out as going from Point A to Point B; it is circular and impressionistic, and with each pass over the event (as an airplane circles the airport before landing) the reader learns a little more about what has happened and how everyone is connected.
Even though it is a fascinating read, there is a slight problem with the character of Stephanie Wiltshire. Wiltshire is the stewardess who helped Lin stow away and who narrates the story in a first-person-omniscient voice. It is rare to see a book written in this fashion—Jeffrey Eugenides’ Middlesex (2002) is another—and it may catch some readers off-guard. It is not too distracting to the overall story, which says something about Walker’s writing skill, but at the same time it is distracting enough to wonder why Walker chose this form of narration in the first place.
An airport is just the place to stage a tragedy of Shakespearean proportions, yet the main tragedy that occurs is not what is expected. This is a nice touch, and one that is revealed slowly as the novel progresses. Overall, Walker’s debut novel is an interesting read and just quirky enough that it makes the slight faults it does have minuscule.