Vurt by Jeff Noon book review

Vurt by Jeff Noon is back on shelves 11 April 2013 in honour of the book’s 20th anniversary

It’s a common trait – particularly among critics – to claim that a ‘classic’ piece of literature, music or film hasn’t dated at all.

The majority of the time, this is rubbish – even the most influential art has a tendency to be landlocked in a place and time. It’s all the more remarkable, then, that in the 20 years since it was first published Vurt hasn’t lost a shred of its originality or power.

Our protagonist is Scribble, an unreliable narrator if ever there was one, constantly moving in and out of a hallucinogenic haze. He’s not the only one – the entire world is slave to hits of the titular drug, which creates a shared, tangible alternate reality.

It was while tripping on the rarest brand of this drug that Scribble lost his sister (and lover) Desdemona and the book follows his quest to find this rare strain of Vurt and use it to track her down.

The writing is quite simply extraordinary. Noon has spoken before about his fondness for ‘remixing’ his prose by jamming two disparate passages together to create a new one, and it makes for an arresting narrative. Pages and pages go by with little to no exposition; only occasional spots of detail and revelation to keep the reader hungry.

With the entire world on drugs, things are understandably dystopian but the legitimate (if unconventional, given the incestuous overtones) human emotion keeps everything grounded and adds a real beauty, like a rainbow reflected in an oil slick.

For its anniversary, the book comes packaged with a bizarre, unnecessary new foreword, and a handful of new short stories by Noon set in the Vurt universe.

While Noon’s fiction is never inconsequential, neither addition is necessary – Vurt was already essential reading, as much in 2013 as in 1993.