Since the behemoth Underworld (1997), Don DeLillo’s novels have tended towards brevity, with even the longest, 2016’s Zero K, coming in at under three hundred elegantly spare pages. While they have been slim, however, these novels have not been slight. Their meditations – the word is apt for a novelist fascinated by the esoteric in all its secular and sacred forms – have encompassed runaway finance, 9/11, the ‘War on Terror’ and the hubris of transhumanism. In each of them, DeLillo has returned to themes developed at length in his earlier, more copious work, recapitulating them in more concentrated form. At 116 pages of text, picked out in a spacious retro typewriter font, The Silence is his shortest stand-alone work yet, though to describe it that way is perhaps a little misleading, given how insistently it calls back to his earlier fiction. The prose here frequently reads as the work of a novelist reflecting on – assessing, revising, puncturing – his own signature style: ‘Half sentences, bare words, repetitions. Diane wanted to think of it as a kind of plainsong, monophonic, ritualistic, but then told herself that this is pretentious nonsense.’ Mannered, knowing, occasionally perverse, this is not a novel that will endear itself to DeLillo newcomers, and indeed there may be old hands for whom its self-referential comedy goes too far.
The central motif of The Silence is a high-stakes televised American football game, zapped into broadcast limbo by some enigmatic electrical disaster. In this, the novel recalls both End Zone, DeLillo’s 1972 gridiron satire of nuclear