Meanwhile in Dopamine City, by DBC Pierre. Faber. $29.99.
Australian-born DBC Pierre won the 2007 Man Booker Prize with his debut novel, Vernon God Little. He now lives in Cambridgeshire, where he wrote Meanwhile in Dopamine City, a satirical dystopian novel set in the near future.
Lonnie Cush is a 36-year-old, newly redundant sanitation (aka sewer) worker, in a country resembling America or Australia, dominated by the tech corporation, Octagon. He is a single father struggling, after his wife's death, to bring up his two children, teenage son Egan and nine-year-old daughter, the precocious and demanding Shelby-Ann.
Lonnie's belief that Shelby is growing up too fast is confirmed after she gets a smartphone and descends into the "hell" of the internet: "the moment they (kids) have a phone they're getting date-raped by corporations, farmed by a new kind of capitalism".
What is Lonnie to do? Should he follow Shelby down the rabbit hole of the net, even though, according to Pierre, he is "like a Commodore 64, and his code suddenly doesn't run on the modern system, whereas the kids are born with Windows 10, and he's got to work out that code"?
When Lonnie enters "the binary life", the structure of the book changes and the text splits into two columns on each page. One column is made up of first-person narratives, told by the numerous different characters. The right-hand column has linked news stories, each relevant to the narrative in the adjacent column.
Pierre is here drawing attention to the ever present 24/7 news cycle, declining attention spans and the algorithms determining how we live our lives.
"Neuropsychology en masse", at one level, but also individually, as people "clicked and liked and favourited themselves into their own hermetic worlds".
Pierre has said such a narrative structure is "not going to work for everyone". The right hand news column is often easier to follow than Lonnie's increasingly fraught life and the multiple character storylines.
Pierre notes that Lonnie, like himself, "was brought up in a liberal world of second chances. My life is built from second chances; I wouldn't be speaking to you but for having been forgiven and helped off the floor and back on my feet".
Lonnie and his family, in an appropriately bizarre conclusion, will also get a second chance as they seek freedom in an "analogue" future.
Meanwhile in Dopamine City often resembles a William Gibson novel, fizzing with technological ideas and satirical comment, and while never quite getting it together as a whole, is decidedly an original.