Vurt by Jeff Noon. I was studying the contemporary novel in my first year at university, and we had a long list of popular books to read like Alex Garland’s The Beach (I liked) or Zadie Smith’s White Teeth (I loved). There were some less mainstream books like a collection of short stories by A.S. Byatt (which I hated) and Sugar and Slate by a Welsh writer Charlotte Williams (which I got, but still bored me).
They all linked very obviously into ideas about postcolonialism and feelings of diaspora, except this really odd cyberpunk novel which fuses drug taking and virtual reality. It tells a story about people who would go round sucking illegal feathers to access dangerous subsections of a virtual reality games, hooking themselves up to metafeathers in which you could die or become lost forever in the Vurt. The link to the other novels, if you’re interested, is the races and mixture of races within the book; human, vurt, robot and dog.
It was the book I expected to like the least and ended up becoming the one I loved the most. I passed it on to my brother who still swears that it has the best opening (“A young boy puts a feather into his mouth”) and closing lines of any book he’s read. I also passed it on to my computer scientist boyfriend, thinking he’d like the virtual reality aspect, but he just told me I must be a pervert, but as the book says:
“Expect to feel pleasure, knowledge is sexy.
Expect to feel pain, knowledge is torture.”
You have been warned.