The Noise of Strangers by Robert Dickinson

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The Noise of Strangers by Robert Dickinson

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Category: General Fiction
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: Robert James
Reviewed by Robert James
Summary: Passable novel of a nightmare society, an ambitious attempt which doesn't quite hit the spot but is still worth a look.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 256 Date: March 2010
Publisher: Myriad Editions
ISBN: {{{isbn}}}

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In a dystopian Brighton where the Council and the Amex company are the only major employers, and council departments have very different purposes to those they have in our own country today - notably the sinister Parks - four couples share dinner parties and discuss as little as possible, due to the problems they have trusting each other. When a Councillor is killed in a car crash, and one of the couples witness it, it triggers a by-election which leads to political manouevring which they're all caught up in.

I loved the structure of The Noise of Strangers - it flits between 'standard' narrative, transcripts of phonecalls and meetings, inter-departmental memos, sinister notes, and articles from an underground newspaper. As a satire, it works well, and is completely believable as a 'nightmare present' scenario. I admired Robert Dickinson's imagination in coming up with this setting, and especially the way in which he described it by just letting details slip out every now and then, rather than with jarring exposition. It's also a beautifully presented edition, with a variety of fonts making it immediately clear what you're reading without the author needing to state it.

Having said that, I admired the book far more than I actually liked it. The characters were generally rather unsympathetic, and while for some of them that was clearly the intention, I thought that Dickinson wanted me to care far more than I actually did about a few of the others, especially Siobhan, who I felt I should have pitied but didn't really care about enough to do so. The transcripts, memos and newspaper reports were far more interesting to me than the main narrative part and I'd actually have been really interested to see if Dickinson could have pulled it off without using a main narrative at all – possibly if he'd used diary extracts from a couple of the characters I'd have felt more involved.

The overall plot is actually quite neatly done, but I think the lack of connection I felt with the characters stopped me from becoming too involved. I wouldn't say this is a book to go out of your way to read, but the interesting structure makes it at least a mild recommendation to check out.

I'd like to thank the publishers for sending a copy to The Bookbag. We also have a review of The Tourist by Robert Dickinson.

Further Reading: For more dystopian fiction, Neal Shusterman's Unwind is a strong recommendation for all despite it being marketed for teens. Jim Crace's The Pesthouse is also excellent.

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