The novelist Andrew O’Hagan is, in his critical writings, never afraid to take on big subjects and, quite often, to make airy generalisations that sound impressive but whose meaning is never entirely clear. But he has written a very interesting and on-the-money review of Don DeLillo’s new novel, Falling Man, in the latest issue of the NYRB (the novel was reviewed in June’s Prospect by Erik Tarloff). O’Hagan’s basic point is that all DeLillo’s fiction has, in some sense, been a preparation for 9/11, or a disaster of a similar magnitude—he has always been obsessed with terrorism, and with the idea of catastrophes being played out in public. But now that such a calamity has happened, where is DeLillo’s fiction to go next? As O’Hagan puts it: “What is a prophet once his fiery word becomes deed…What is left of the paranoid style when all suspicions become true?” It’s a good question—and O’Hagan’s verdict on the new novel, like Erik Tarloff’s, is decidedly lukewarm.
In amongst the review’s good sense, there is one moment when O’Hagan gets a bit carried away with his own DeLillo-esque sense of destinies colliding: “If the twin towers could be said to have stood in wait for the Mohamed Attas of the world, then the Mohamed Attas of the world were standing in wait for Don DeLillo.” DeLillo may be one of America’s best writers, but I think that may be according him a bit too much importance.