Cover image for Blackbox : a novel in 840 chapters
Blackbox : a novel in 840 chapters
Walker, Nick, 1969-
Personal Author:
First Perennial edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Perennial, 2003.

Physical Description:
311 pages ; 21 cm
General Note:
Originally published: U.K.: Review, 2002.
Format :


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Cross a road, take a train, or get on an airplane and you put your life in the hands of a stranger -- every bit as screwed up, every bit as fallible and as human as you are. Then the person turns out not to be a stranger at all, and suddenly it's much worse.

In America and Britain and the sky in between, an apparently disparate group of people is connected, whether intimately or by chance, to the tragic death of a stowaway on board flight AF266.

As the action veers across countries and time zones, the stowaway's real identity is revealed through stolen black box recordings, answering machine messages, sitcom outtakes, and court transcripts. Told in a shifting, circular narrative, the interwoven lives make up a jolting and layered puzzle that builds to a heart-stopping, chilling climax.

An intelligent and invigorating novel with a bizarre menu of dysfunctional characters, Blackbox is the story of an attempt to erase a life on tape.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Coincidences are cheap literary devices, and this novel relies on enough of them to fill a dollar store. Forget six degrees of separation; these disparate characters don't go beyond two degrees, even though they're split between London and New York.ust to follow one crazy thread: a depressed pilot randomly picks a New York therapist who just helped a woman commit suicide in London; meanwhile, a friend of the pilot returns to England only to meet the suicide's father and assist in his death. On it goes, desperate lives interweaving through a narrative more fanciful than any Harry Potter book. And whether they're unbalanced comedians or jinxed actors, the characters all speak with one loopy voice that keeps reminding us we're reading words on a page. Yet anyone willing to suspend disbelief is in for a clever, darkly humorous tale--narrated in 840 bite-size chunks by an omniscient ex-stewardess from inside the wheel well of a transatlantic flight. Although it's overly showy, this rumination on lost people longing for meaning packs quite a bittersweet punch. --Frank Sennett Copyright 2003 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

"Any one of us is only six acquaintances away from anyone else," hints stewardess Stephanie Wiltshire at the outset of Walker's high-speed, disquieting debut, which features the not-so-random interactions of 20 of the most ludicrously manic characters imaginable. As Flight SA841 touches down at Birmingham International Airport from New York, an unidentified female stowaway on another plane begins her countdown through 840 concise chapters (many are just a line or two long), each of which builds urgently toward the disclosure of her identity and her fate. Air traffic controller Michael Davies guides SA841 to its gate, then drives home listening to psychoanalyst Dr. Frankburg's smash-hit self-help tape, You Too Can Fly, which is popular among airline industry employees and aviophobes alike. Distracted by the tape, Davies nearly hits a pedestrian later revealed to be yet another piece in the puzzle, before reaching home and his phobia-obsessed wife. The rest of the cast includes an "unfunny" comic whose act features a simulated suicide, an aspiring anticorporate terrorist, a suicidal pilot, a morgue assistant and a Welsh actor coping with the suicide of a Scottish actress and friend, all of whom are connected in some way to the death of a Chinese woman more than 20 years earlier. Walker's inaugural work is so clever that it seems to be the product of years of careful contemplation, yet so electrifying that it is just as easy to imagine him writing it in one sitting. His respect for his readers' attentiveness is palpable and refreshing, and a character list included at the front of the book is helpful in sorting out any momentary confusion. (Sept.) Forecast: Walker's quick-cut styling won't appeal to everyone, but those willing to take the plunge will find the novel surprisingly easy reading; like the cult film Run, Lola, Run, it delivers a postmodern, high-power adrenaline rush. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

A review of a first novel in nine sentences. 9.) While the numbers of the chapters tick off in inevitable sequence from 840 to 1, the story, which only gradually reveals itself to be about an airliner crash, circles overhead in pleasing but at times seemingly aimless, patterns. 8.) The large cast of characters involves a disparate array, everything from a counterfeit therapist to an air traffic controller to a dead actress. 7.) John Heron is a comic billed as "Unfunny John" who lives up to his name; his routine consists of succumbing to the worst case of flop sweat in theatrical history and ends with his faking suicide. 6.) Exiting stage left, Unfunny John tells the comedian waiting in the wings, "You're on." 5.) Why do we think all pilots look and act like Alan Alda? 4.) This book forces us to rethink that scenario. 3.) The author, a British writer and performer with Talking Birds, a mixed-media production company, probably won't be available for U.S. tours (he has an acute fear of flying). 2.) This intermittently funny book might be of interest to fans of Douglas Coupland who don't have any flight plans in their future. 1.) Purchase where there's an interest in quirky, experimental fiction.-Bob Lunn, Kansas City P.L., MO (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.