VIRTUAL ORANGE

A NOVEL BRILLIANTLY PORTRAYS 21ST CENTURY GROTESQUERIES

JEFF NOON'S FLUORESCENT AND PHANTASMAGORICAL novel Vurt (Crown; 342 pages; $22) isn't quite the equal of Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange, with which it is being compared, but in some ways it comes close. It's good enough in its first 50 or 60 pages of atmosphere setting, all smoke machines and flashing strobes, that the reader blinks, shakes his head and wonders whether Noon can sustain the weirdness. The answer, as shapes become familiar in the fog, lies somewhere between "no," "sort of" and "too mad to matter."

The scene is an unspecified English city, far gone in decay, at some...

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