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Crash happyBlackboxby Nick Walker311pp ReviewWe now live in a country with far too many chefs and comedians too many of whom feel obliged to produce novels Nick Walker seems at first to be doing himself few favours by adding himself to the list with an experimental novel featuring a character named Unfunny John stand-up comic John is so desperately unfunny that he can alienate any audience which is the point because he then has his revenge by blowing his brains all over the stage His wife so an informative index tells us is a morgue attendantBlackbox could have been annoying and irritating in obvious ways but is transformed by its radical take Sleight-of-hand which fascinates Walker is applied to his own material His preoccupations overlap with those of Chris Morris - a deadpan mordant curiosity fascination with modern-day taboos humour as an extension of terror and fear to a point where something stops being funny and becomes interesting - and J G BallardBlackbox inhabits a Ballardian landscape of airport terminals air disasters radio phone-ins lists black-box recordings terrorism and psychotherapy sessions and has a cast to match - pilots self-help therapists some bogus voiceover actors ex-government agents air-traffic controllers air-crash investigators stewardesses - all traumatised by the sort of real or imagined anxieties that are the product of this high-pressure world References to RD Laing Lacan and Ulrike Meinhof further stake out Walkers intellectual territoryThe narrative owes little to conventional unfolding opting instead for a countdown of 840 scenes some only a line or a word or two They are not all by any means memorable and the same can be said for the characters who achieve their most solid form in the books indexWalkers approach both demonstrates and refutes coincidence and creates a jigsaw of past memory present and near-future projections invariably involving fatalities It is a world in which the black-box recording becomes the ultimate act of eavesdropping of simultaneous violation and sanctity
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