In the rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap, the guitarist Nigel Tufnel looks admiringly at the cover of the band’s new album. ‘It’s like, how much more black could this be?’ he says. ‘And the answer is: none. None more black.’ This is, roughly, the appropriate reaction to Zero K: ‘How much more Don DeLillo could this be? None. None more Don DeLillo.’
That is not to say, not exactly, that DeLillo has descended into self-parody. Only that, rather like J G Ballard, he prefers to work a particular set of seams and that this new novel covers them all. In no particular order they include conceptual art, big money, affectless sex, simulation, television images in general and television images of catastrophe in particular, technology, death, time, language and the naming of things, eccentric teenagers, the hard problem of consciousness, and sunglasses. We even meet at one point, perhaps as a sly little joke, a trophy baseball.
Zero K’s narrator is Jeffrey Lockhart, a somewhat directionless man in his mid-thirties who, when we meet him, has been flown out to a secure facility in the middle of nowhere in the former USSR: ‘a long slow scan of salt flats and stone rubble, empty except for several low