It is premature to talk of a natural successor to Don DeLillo when he is still very much alive, but Jonathan Raban is surely bent on staking a claim in the Great American Novel territory. Not that Raban is American, of course, but his novels are and he has made his home there. And in his thematic preoccupations, he is marching to the beat of markedly similar cultural and socio-political drums to those that reverberate through DeLillo’s work. One critic has already compared Surveillance to Mao II, but a closer likeness exists with an earlier DeLillo title from the Thatcher/Reagan era: Raban’s new novel, I would suggest, is a White Noise for our post-9/11, post-Tsunami times.
The novel opens with a full-scale rehearsal by emergency crews for the aftermath of a terrorist attack on Seattle, complete with spectacular TV-style special effects. The exercises – regular occurrences in Raban’s ultra-security-conscious America – are strikingly reminiscent of The Airborne Toxic Event episode in White Noise. In both novels,