Don DeLillo: Ratner’s Star
Billy Twillig is fourteen and, like DeLillo, a resident of the Bronx but, unlike DeLillo, a Nobel Prize winner in maths. (Of course, there is no Nobel Prize in maths.) He is given the task of deciphering what may well be messages from aliens. DeLillo has said I was trying to build a novel which was not only about mathematics to some extent but which itself would become a piece of mathematics. The result is that the book is at times flat and boring (it’s his longest novel to date). Of course, the book is also about language, not just the language of the alien communication but generally about language, whether Lepro whose language does not distinguish between why and because so he uses both interchangeably or Elux Troxl who may be Honduran but mixes a variety of languages into his speech. It is about jargon and the structure of language. How can we expect to communicate without a ruthlessly precise system of symbolic notation? one of the characters ask. Scientists may need to do so. Fortunately, DeLillo does not.
First published 1976 by Knopf