Jeff Noon Critical Essays


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Jeff Noon Vurt

Born in 1958, Noon is an English novelist.

Set in Manchester, England, in the near future, Vurt (1993) concerns a character named Scribble and a group of friends consumed with the search for legal and black market strains of "vurt," a hallucinogenic drug that transports the user into a dream-like world. By placing a colored feather in one's mouth, an individual is able to enter a multilayered world of virtual reality, or, in the Manchester slang of the future, vurt. Ostensibly a love story and mystery, Vurt focuses on Scribble's search for his sister and lover, Desdemona, who remains lost in the vurt; the siblings became separated while on a drug trip inspired by a combination of the "Curious Yellow" and black "English Voodoo" feathers, and Scribble must find a way to retrieve his sister. The novel also features such fantastic creatures as dreamsnakes, robot cops, mutants, and the "Thing-from-Outer-Space," a living, organic manifestation and materialization of the drug vurt.

Winner of the 1994 Arthur C. Clarke Award for Fiction, Vurt was first published in England in 1993 and has been praised for its bleak yet intriguingly conceived portrait of the future and its original and, at times, lyrical language. Much of the critical attention surrounding Vurt has focused on its fragmented narrative and on attempts to classify the novel within a specific genre. Detractors have argued that Vurt fails as a piece of science fiction because Noon refuses to examine the relationship between his dystopic future and the moral and ethical dilemmas posed by contemporary society and technological advancement. Other commentators, however, have favorably compared Noon's "cyberpunk" portrait of the future with other notable works of fantastic literature, including William Gibson's Neuromancer (1984), Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange (1962), and Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865) and Through the Looking-Glass, and What Alice Found There (1872). Many reviewers have also seen in Scribble's quest for his sibling an update of the Orpheus and Eurydice myth.