Within Without, by Jeff Noon

John Nyquist returns for a fourth outing in Jeff Noon’s surreal, layered novel, Within Without. These mysteries are not for everyone. They are deeply weird, as I first learned in Creeping Jenny. Noon effectively transplants a veneer of mystery—Nyquist is a private investigator—onto a very thick layer of New Weird. This entry sees Nyquist paired with a partner for a trip to the city of Delirium, which is crisscrossed with replicating borders, bizarre rules, and captivating glamour. It’s also a place he’s managed to avoid up until now, and it isn’t long before we know why.

Nyquist’s world is technically a mid-century England but, bar a few references to English place names and dates, everything else is deeply strange. The city of Delirium is, in fact, possibly the weirdest place I’ve ever read about. It’s an impossible city. First, there’s a border that visitors have to queue for hours to cross. Then there are more borders after that. Some borders cross the city; others might cross just a street. At one point, Nyquist and his partner, Fairclough, get caught in a border that just encloses them. See what I mean? Delirium might just be the weirdest place I’ve ever read about. Nyquist and Fairclough are have arrived to help one of the world’s most famous actors find this lost image. This is not metaphorical. In the city of Delirium, a famous person’s image is actually a sentient-but-ephemeral creature magically attached to the person so that it can enhance their musical abilities, acting, or other talents.

But as I learned in Creeping Jenny, Nyquist’s cases are just the tip of a weird iceberg. Before long, Nyquist has to travel into Delirium’s deepest corners, find a series of enchanters (one of whom has taken the man’s home is his castle metaphor literally), battle bureaucrats, and slip through layer after layer to figure out just what the hell is going on. Like many other New Weird books, Within Without is the kind of story that you have to let wash over you. If you stop to question the surrealism, you’ll throw yourself right out of the book. If you stop to question how Nyquist got to where he is in each chapter, you’ll also through yourself out of the book. It’s hard to do this for some readers. (I’m looking at you, English majors.) If you can switch off the more analytical parts of your brain—and you’re a fan of weird books—I think you’ll find one of the most wildly imaginative stories I’ve ever read.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss, for review consideration.

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