Picador £14.99

Point Omega, By Don DeLillo

Reality is a matter of opinion in DeLillo's latest

Twenty-six years ago, in White Noise, Don DeLillo wrote about the Most Photographed Barn in America, a tourist attraction that was an attraction simply because it was an attraction, and thus bestowed with a significance entirely unjustified by its architectural or historical standing. Read now, the vignette feels like an uncanny prophecy of celeb reality. "No one sees the barn," says Murray, an academic on a day trip. "What was the barn like before it was photographed? What did it look like, how was it different from other barns, how was it similar to other barns? We can't answer these questions because we've read the signs, seen the people snapping the pictures. We can't get outside the aura. We're part of the aura."

Now, in Point Omega, a book quite different to White Noise but no less unmistakably by Don DeLillo, we are presented with a sort of human counterpoint to that phenomenon – a flimsy girl called Jessie who is "sylphlike", whose "element was air", barely there because she is barely seen, and barely sees others. "Her look had an abridged quality, it wasn't reaching the wall or window," we are told. "I found it disturbing to watch her, knowing that she didn't feel watched. Where was she?"

Jessie is the locus of Point Omega's unsettling sense that reality is more a question of where attention is arbitrarily placed than it is a tangible fact. Her father is Richard Elster, a neo-conservative intellectual who worked on the planning of the Iraq war and whose professional disdain for fictive landscapes – "They think they're sending an army into a place on the map," he complains of the war's prosecutors – is somewhat undercut by his personal retreat to a secluded shack somewhere deep in the California desert. He is followed there by the book's narrator, Jim Finley, a filmmaker who hopes to record Elster reflecting on his part in the run-up to invasion.

None of the three is exactly flesh and blood, but in Jessie, DeLillo has presented perhaps his most hologrammatic figure yet: flat, and yet like us, because her disorienting difficulty with connection is all too familiar. Elster and Finley, too, can only scramble for concrete proof of their own existence, of what Elster calls "the true life", something not spoken or written but found in the "submicroscopic moments". "The unsorted thoughts we have looking out the train window," elaborates Finley. "Small dull smears of meditative panic."

Elster is in the desert in the hope of focusing on "the true life", and, more cryptically, because of his sense that time passes differently there – that "day turns to night eventually but it's a matter of light and darkness, it's not time passing, mortal time... it's different here, time is enormous". In his own way, DeLillo is trying something similar. The book begins and ends with visits to an art installation: Douglas Gordon's 24 Hour Psycho, which consists of Hitchcock's film slowed down to be played over a 24-hour cycle with the effect that each submicroscopic moment – whether it's a turn of the head or a fist clasping round a knife – takes on equal attention, and hence equal significance.

In between those bookends, Point Omega's narrative unfolds in a similarly glacial, attentive way; a forlorn counterattack against plot, cause and effect, and the near-universal sense that tiny moments matter less than grand narratives. Elster compares the perfect conflict to a haiku, "a war in three lines", and expresses a military determination to "retake the future" through "the force of will"; it isn't hard to see how Point Omega's interest in the minutiae, its resistance to the usual narrative shapes, might work as a counterattack to that kind of approach as a matter of geo-politics. But DeLillo has a far broader purpose, as he always does: to present a world in which perception and reality are one, and to suggest ways to navigate it. He is almost alone in the mainstream of American literature in ploughing this furrow, and his continued determination to do so borders on the heroic. This strange, slight, brittle fiction is a worthy addition to an extraordinary body of work.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Israeli-born actress Gal Gadot has been cast to play Wonder Woman
film
News
Top Gear presenter James May appears to be struggling with his new-found free time
people
Arts and Entertainment
Kendrick Lamar at the Made in America Festival in Los Angeles last summer
music
Arts and Entertainment
'Marley & Me' with Jennifer Aniston and Owen Wilson
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jon Hamm (right) and John Slattery in the final series of Mad Men
tv
Arts and Entertainment
theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Place Blanche, Paris, 1961, shot by Christer Strömholm
photographyHow the famous camera transformed photography for ever
Arts and Entertainment
The ‘Westmacott Athlete’
art
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    No postcode? No vote

    Floating voters

    How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

    By Reason of Insanity

    Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
    Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

    Power dressing is back

    But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
    Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

    Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

    Caves were re-opened to the public
    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

    Vince Cable interview

    'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
    Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

    Promises, promises

    But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
    The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

    The death of a Gaza fisherman

    He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
    Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

    Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
    Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

    The only direction Zayn could go

    We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
    Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

    Spells like teen spirit

    A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
    Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

    British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
    Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

    Licence to offend in the land of the free

    Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
    From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

    From farm to fork in Cornwall

    One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
    Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

    Robert Parker interview

    The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

    We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor