David V. Barrett (review date 21 January 1994)
SOURCE: "Madchester," in New Statesman & Society, Vol. 7, No. 286, January 21, 1994, p. 41.
[In the excerpt below, Barrett relates the plot of Vurt, praising it as "an astonishing novel in story, style and emotion."]
[In Jeff Noon's Vurt] Vurt is a type of virtual reality (but without computers), and a kind of drug. You put a coloured feather in your mouth and you're in a dreamworld—or a nightmare. Scribble is searching for his kid sister (and lover) who went into a Vurt world with him and never came back. He roams the backstreets with a gang of friends, trying to find a dealer who will supply him with a Curious Yellow feather, so he can go back to the same world to find her.
The Vurt worlds are appealing and terrifying, mystical and murderous; the real world is gritty and realistic. Noon's Manchester has Bottletown, a housing estate with a couple of unemptied bottle banks. "When the banks were full, and overflowing, still they came, breaking bottles on the pavements and the stairs and the landings. This is how the world fills up. Shard by shard, jag by jag, until the whole place is some kind of glitter palace, sharp and painful to the touch." The last sentence is a perfect description of the novel, as is this: "Such is beauty, in the midst of the city of tears. In Bottletown even our tears flicker like jewels."
Vurt is an astonishing novel in story, style and emotion. In places it has the lyricism of Elizabeth Smart's By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, mixed with the weird and wild fun of Chester Anderson's cult hippy-SF novel The Butterfly Kid and the streetwise cynicism of Kurt Vonnegut at his best. It may be too harsh for hippies, too beautiful for bikers; but its spikiness should appeal to the punks, and its obsession with danger and death should grab the goths.