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Don DeLillo: The Names

While all of DeLillo’s novels are worth reading, it is with this novel that DeLillo ceases to be a good novelist and becomes a great one. The novel is set in Greece and in the Middle East and concerns the narrator, his wife Kathryn, an archeologist and their nine-year old son, a novelist. There is not much of a plot (terrorism but who cares?) and even the characters – the narrator apart – do not stand out but what DeLillo does is to paint a portrait of contemporary American neurosis which, by virtue of being against the exotic backdrop of Greece and the Middle East, is accentuated even more than in his US-based novels. The sun, the different languages, the strange customs, the different clothes, the exotic backdrop, all are brilliantly portrayed and all serve to enhance the sense of alienation. And, of course, it is about politics, without being political. Most of all it is about language and how we fail to communicate with one another, made more acute because of the languages other than English involved, though that makes little difference (the strange language exposed the whole idea as gibberish…It had been gibberish in English as well. But he hadn’t realised it until now. or Everyone is talking. I …hear one language after another, rich harsh, mysterious, strong. This is what we bring to the temple, not prayer or chant or slaughtered rams. Our offering is language.)

Publishing history

First published 1982 by Knopf