From Publishers Weekly
British cult novelist Nicholson's talent for sheer verbal flash is on display in his sixth novel (Hunters and Gatherers, etc.) to appear in the U.S. The book is laid out like a CD, with the "cuts" being short takes on the life of one Jenny Slade, a legendary electric guitarist. We first glimpse Jenny coming into the Havoc Bar and Grill, where she pulls out a guitar that sprouts hair and appears to be made of some disturbingly human substance, and improvises music of "the sound of planets melting, of death factories imploding, of mythical beasts being slaughtered." Following her exit from the bar is the entrance of Bob Arnold, self-described number one Jenny Slade fan and obsessed editor/writer of the fanzine Journal of Sladean Studies. The book alternates between pieces in Bob Arnold's magazine; stories he tells the Havoc barmaid, Kate; and fragments where Jenny is set loose, like a tough, sexy guardian angel of rock 'n' roll history. She time-travels to give a teenage Frank Zappa some career advice, confronts Jimi Hendrix on the subject of sexism and even helps Kurt Cobain find the right words for his suicide note. The loose structure accommodates Nicholson's taste for parody and pastiche. There are send-ups of Moby Dick, Borges and Kafka, and witty takeoffs on emblematic rock phenomena. A running gag involves Jenny's on-again off-again partnership with composer Tom Scorn, who takes the performative aspects of music to disturbing new heights. Liberally sprinkled with esoteric references and subtext completely comprehensible only to rock 'n' roll cognoscenti, this is a clever montage rife with signature black humor and ultra-hip self-consciousness, further evidence of this writer's zany imagination.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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From Kirkus Reviews
The wildly inventive Nicholson (Bleeding London, 1997, etc.) exuberantly lives up to his reputation with this witty, ingenious fable about a rock-and-roll guitarist. Many writers have come to grief trying to create with words an approximation of music's content and texture. Nicholson wisely sidesteps the issue by concentrating instead on the impact of the young and mysterious Jenny Slade's music on her audiences. Jenny, bright (its rumored she studied at the Sorbonne, or Oxford), a loner, either bored or uninterested by most things not having to do with music, wants to be something other than a mere virtuoso. While she is, by all accounts, a phenomenally gifted guitarist, she's constantly driven to push the boundaries: much of what she creates (performed solo on guitar) sounds more like noise than melody. Yet it has a deep, unsettling, almost addictive effect on her audiences. Part of her ability to mesmerize may come from the peculiar guitar she travels with: its shaped vaguely like a human torso and seems, at the climax of her concerts, to bleed. While the story follows, ironically, the outlines of a quest narrative (with Jenny as a dedicated seeker, searching to unlock the riddles at ``the heart of the universe'' with her music), Nicholson can't resist embroidering the tale with some typically witty and idiosyncratic touches. There is, for instance, Jenny's near-lethal encounter with Freddie Terrano, the legendary one-armed guitarist. And sprinkled throughout are excerpts from articles in the Journal of Sladean Studies, devoted to explicating her life and art, and forming a wonderful parody of academic dissections of pop culture. Then there's the language: Nicholson's characters are invariably gifted with a line of bright, sardonic chat. Jenny's quest leads her eventually to a kind of revelation, and, in an end both droll and moving, to silence. A deft entertainment, bright, surprising, and, in its consideration of the impact of popular music on our imaginations, quite penetrating. -- Copyright ©1998, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.
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