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Pollen – Jeff Noon (1995)

Sneezing our way through the ‘dancefloor’ of Pollen, we notice that Noon is definitely – if I may wink a little – in his morning hours – crisp, brisk, bright and straight.

The artist, you see, must travel backwards in time. To become, once again, a child of dreams.

Pablo Ogden


Welcome to the second chapter of prequelo-sequelling adventures in Noonland! Last time we embarked on a delicious temporal escapade with Alice Liddell and Celia Hobart to 1998 and 1860 Manchester there and back, respectively. After our “danciful” (loaded with exceptionally fanciful dance moves) ‘clubbing marathon’ with both girls, we, as readers, are going to descend today even deeper, down the prequelling membranes of dates and other tic-toc-ish hiccups which constantly annihilate and recreate the quintessence of Club Noon. We land in 1995, however the year in which the action of Pollen takes place is unspecified. All we know is that our sneezing has been going off the roof for quite some time now, it is more dream-punk-noir in here and the bouncer’s list is being stricter this time. Do not worry, the barrel-chested, hefty muscleman blocking our way is my pal. He is very fond of pure Vurt drifters like me, even if we pay a visit to the Univurtse less than occasionally.

From the very first page we immerse ourselves in the vivid, cheeky, hard-boiled style of Pollen with remarkable ease. Prefaced with a muzzy, death-rattling monologue of a retired Shadowcop – a police officer ‘equipped’ with the ESP powers – called Sibyl Jones, the plot is composed of her gripping recollection of events which occurred between May 1st and 9th AD undisclosed (with an epilogue on August 24th the very same year). Surely, as it is not uncommon for tough-as-nails protagonists, apart from abusing wine on a daily basis, our insightfully named narrator is also able to reignite our insides with a certain aptitude for evoking various ‘scents’ of letters or maybe even the general concept of literature possessing ‘sense of smell’ and all the cavalcades of percepts, mental images, sensations and other imaginary appearances associated with it. Never mind that now, though. As usual I must have gotten distracted, however this time by the blatantly obnoxious hay fever of mine. Ahchooooo!!!!

Getting back on the anti-digressive track, nevertheless still being stuck between a rock of detail disclosures and a hard place of letting you excavate them on your own, I should perhaps begin with the clarification of the key term “pollen”. We find ourselves in Manchester again, a multi-real hub of Noon’s narrative, whose cityscape has been stuffed with all the conceivable, neo-trippy personas, who look like the end result of Salvador Dalí’s wildest outbursts of imagination combined with soft cyberpunk vibes. Outcast zombies, wretched dogmen and aloof dogbots, slutty bitchgirls and dim-witted robogals, mischievous AI’s bugged with delusions of grandeur as well as many other ‘newmonic’ hybrids and chimeras comprise the fabric of society which must have undergone extensive fertility treatment that got out of hand in the past. Fecundity 10 was the name of the panacea, hinted here and there along the way, which shattered breeding barriers not only between species, but also between realms of Eros and Thanatos. On top of that, we have the reality of Vurt or Univurtse, as I have dubbed this knar-like meta-world of interconnected dreams recently, which has quickly gained a quite misty yet remarkably evident, lest to say matter-of-fact status with its striking resemblance to vague however superficially familiar characteristics of the Internet. Apparently, the dualistic nature of the Univurtse has gradually become more and more self-aware, ‘tidally locked’ to expansiveness and is now looming large as a slayer of yet another procreative boundary to be overthrown – the new lover in the pool of lewdness being the gravid voluptuousness of floral world, personified by the little Lolita-like nymphet named Persephone…

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Drawing near an interlude of the temporal prequeltion inside Jeff Noon’s four-story ‘discotheque’, I inevitably reach the trickiest dance floor to conquer, with virtually/vurtually no chance of busting some original moves on it – the comparison room. Nevertheless, I shall at least try to slide my head a little, pull off some desynchronized popping and avoid dislocating my shoulder after 1990-ing like a legit fledgling. I am going to spare you the essay-ish slops which would turn up sooner or later, just like during those long afternoons wasted on writing assignments back in high school – I will get straight to the point. If Automated Alice is the saucy lambada of proliferating, impeccable ‘never’ of letters, Pollen should be labelled (although labelling is only one vowel away from libelling…) a study in boosting the temporality of their temperate ‘maybe’. The above statement should not be regarded as a derogatory, one-line summary, though. That is out of the question! Noon’s second novel (chronologically speaking), having several aces up its sleeve (e.g., the ultimately blurry ontological status of John Barleycorn, Sibyl Jones’ fate after having rescued one of the characters from the Boomer juice OD, etc.), proves to be following the well-known path of letters to shapeshift their repetitive outcry of mimicry into the playful concert of conceptuality. ‘Maybe’ evolving into ‘never’. It sometimes involves devolving too. To de-mature sentences instead of making them grow old, to mirror their as yet undiscovered Benjamin Button side, to turn them into a ‘child’ they have or – more interestingly – have not been before. So far I have noticed this rare peculiarity in full bloom only in Beckett’s prose, but maybe I will bore you to death with it some other time…

Sneezing our way through the ‘dancefloor’ of Pollen, we notice that Noon is definitely – if I may wink a little – in his morning hours – crisp, brisk, bright and straight. Refreshed as if he took the deep sleep he did not need at all and had not actually fallen into in the first place (he had written Vurt just two years earlier), yet his zenith of prancing debonairly, with a dash of unmistakable frolic, into the wondrous ‘after-noon’ prose of Automated Alice is still to be reached. And this potential mode of letters is criminally contagious – chapter after chapter we absorb every drop of future chirpiness lapping inside its 327-page body. Its streams are pouring into our nostrils, our mouths, our eyes, our ears, whirling around their own frantic fractal axes. Out of the blue, our sternutation ceases abruptly. Then we forget about our pollen counter – beeping wildly and serving as one of the foolproof sound systems down in the Club – while we are drifting away inside the veil of thick, milky white fog of time starting to vaporize backwards again. Wait a minute! Is that a feather between your lips?…

Amonne Purity


Review overview


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