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V. A Novel by Thomas Pynchon

V. A Novel (original 1963; edition 1968)

by Thomas Pynchon

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3,730271,400 (4.07)98
Title:V. A Novel
Authors:Thomas Pynchon
Info:Bantam Books (1968), Edition: October 1968, Fourth Printing, Paperback, 463 pages
Collections:Your library, Modern Library Top 100

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V. by Thomas Pynchon (1963)

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I've read four Pynchon books, and the only one I was healthy for was Lot 49, which barely counts. For Gravity's Rainbow I was not only violently ill, but also on a cross-country road trip with my also violently ill father and my long-suffering mother, who could do little more than look on while we fought over things like whether it was acceptable to order dessert. For Inherent Vice, I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed. And now for V, not only did I finish it with Hurricane Sandy knocking limbs from trees outside my windows, but I was at the depths of a comparatively mild cold.

The lesson is that one shouldn't read Pynchon when doped out on legal drugs, because all I remember of GR is an octopus, and I don't recall much from IV, either. On the other hand, I remember nothing from 49 despite having read it twice, and I suspect that's because it just isn't that good. This whole trend worries me some, but the good news is I won't be forgetting V any time soon, because it's a flat out masterpiece and, I suspect, better than GR.

'V,' in ascending order of abstraction, is a person with a robot eye, is a Utopia that large numbers of people think actually exists, probably stands for 'vagina' as in the source to which a large number of people wish to return, is a way of symbolizing reflection, either with reference to the mirror stage or reflection theories of vulgar materialism ('culture is simply the reflection of economics'), and is the convergence of two strands of the plot.

The two strands follow, respectively, Stencil, a paranoid obsessive, whose story should, according to the paranoid perspective, be perfectly coherent but is in fact an endless search for an indefinable x (V). The second follows a picaro (Profane the schlemihl) whose story, as with any good picaresque, should have no coherence whatsoever but is, in fact, a fairly good illustration of the twentieth century decadence ("falling away") that 'V' chronicles, and the despair that decadence can induce.

Various characters have various ways of coping with this decadence: different religions, art, drunkenness/hedonism, dentistry, and so on, but none of them can hold a candle to the disasters that follow everybody, like colonialism, war, unemployment, deracination and general ennui. The human beings slowly giving way: a nose job here, a belly ring there, becoming more and more object and less and less subject, more and more merely what "is the case" and less and less that which cannot be said(there's much play with early Wittgenstein here), more and more cyborg, less and live alive.

The two narrative strands converge in Malta; the guiding metaphor is siege (Malta, which was besieged by the Ottomans, French under Napoleon, and the Axis powers in World War II). The human being is under siege, and neither the paranoid truth seeker nor the schizoid schlemihl can cope. Those who can and do cope (e.g., Schoenmaker) are manifestly dehumanizing evil bastards. But the book's manic energy makes it much less depressing than this sounds, and after all, there's still wine, wo/men and song. Including song about Wittgenstein.

Books of which 'V' weirdly reminded me: Vile Bodies (decadence); Siege of Krishnapur (siege & colonialism); Graham Greene & Javier Marias for the spy thriller aspects; Roth for the 'Jews in America' aspects; Rilke for the ambivalent drive to become pure matter.

Many reviewers say this is a really hard book, but I think maybe they're over-reacting: once you know or work out that there are two narrative strands, one of which is 'present day' and one of which is historical narrative, you can make your way through this book pretty easily. Particularly if you eschew all the 'V moves through time' nonsense. V does not move through time. Stencil's paranoia connects a number of things that need not be connected, just as my paranoia has linked together many aspects of the novel. The difficult aspect of the novel is to read it not as another dull pomo pastiche, but as the late modern masterpiece it is, dealing with difficult psychological concepts and historical realities. You can only read this book with paranoia: the urge to connect and seek order. Maybe that's not such a bad thing. ( )
1 vote stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
I have long underestimated this book, having read it only once, back in the 1980s. Now that I have read it again, I like it as much as anything else of Pynchon's. His 1950s, the fifties of the Whole Sick Crew, do not seem so different from American life today. The chapter on the genocide of the Herero in German Southwest Africa, seemingly at right angles to the rest of the novel, aligns the book squarely with all of Pynchon's major works, which invariably include examples of human barbarity at its very worst. ( )
1 vote owenino | Sep 12, 2013 |
Somewhere along the way this novel went awry. For the first half or more I found V an exhilerating dash through various histories and subject matters, with the language to match. Then it started juddering to a halt once the narrative heads to German SW Africa. That section and the Siege of Malta, perhaps because of both's fever dream aspects, made a challenging but entertaining novel head further into the abstract, and my interest waned as a result. The antics of The Whole Sick Crew also seemed to spiral in to pointlessness as well, which may be the point, but it doesn't make it any more interesting to read.

Perhaps it's nothing too complicated and V simply falls down like many other novels by failing to deliver a satisfying enough climax after all that has come before? Or is the novel little more than a cobbled together collection of interesting short story ideas that Pynchon had, which explains its uneven quality? Either way, tt remains a good novel and a very impressive debut, but after enjoying the first half of the story so much, I can't help but feel let down having turned the last page with the book's early verve long since disappated. ( )
  DRFP | Jul 30, 2013 |
I really enjoyed this book, although I don't think it was as good as Gravity's Rainbow ( )
  leslie.98 | Jun 26, 2013 |

Knowledge is a funny business. Everyone pretends omniscience in the classroom, but god forbid you spout off like an intellectual outside of it. And then you have the subculture of people making an effort to read Pynchon in public, and the other subcultures that amuse themselves at their expense. The verdict seems to be know it all, but please, spare us from your efforts to prove it.

I'd sell my soul to write like this at the age of six and twenty. There, I admitted to lack of know-how when it comes to the realm of Pynchon. Of course, the references to souls might not be worth much coming from someone with no memory of being religious in any sense, but I'd like to think the Catholic upbringing accredits the statement somewhat. My horse may be hitched to atheism, but I can still appreciate good theological diatribes with healthy roots in philosophy and literature.

Which is what I'm getting at here. Roots. Easily graspable statements with esoteric legs to stand on. A sense of context that spans the contemporary as easily as the ancient, and ties the two together in the delightfully tangible sense. Ivory computers, porcelain circuitry, old materials caking the eternal Street from 1955's Norfolk to 1919's Malta and beyond. To say the word 'automaton' and have the images of golems and cyborgs seamlessly interweave on the succeeding pages.

This isn't your banal tactic of cultural references and knowledge dropping at every turn. I suppose I should give credit to Neal Stephenson for setting up an apparatus of tin foil and pipe cleaner, to better display Pynchon's idol of ebony and titanium. The desire to imitate that deceptive depth of story is understandable. Not everyone can write in the style of the yo-yo, apex to apex, apocheir to apocheir, without the bottom ponderously dropping out or the string severing at the zenith or the snagging speed making the ride sickening to the stomach.

And again, six and twenty! 1963! In the US! Did you know that this book passes the Bechdel Test? I wouldn't have believed it either, least not without reading it for myself. Or believed without experiencing for myself how conscious the story is of life and its seeming coincidences, long lines of 'plot' drifting back and forth from immediate relevance to useless trivia. It never forsakes the surface details for the underlying meaning, and vice versa, and there's even spots of real humor and true beauty to be found. It's a rare talent that belies Pynchon's youth, to describe the passions that drive the intricate clockwork of the small days, and contextualize them in the themes that have, do, and will span for millenia. And to switch from one to the other without any noticeable jerks or shuddering! It makes one question the validity of the categories of knowledge that we function in, conventional discourse that so many gain use of by sacrificing the essence of their critical thinking. Puzzle pieces guaranteeing a pretty picture, inherently forsaking its right to a blank canvas.

"Events seem to be ordered into an ominous logic." It repeated itself automatically and Stencil improved on it each time, placing emphasis on different words--"events seem"; "seem to be ordered"; "ominous logic"--pronouncing them differently, changing the "tone of voice" from sepulchral to jaunty, round and round and round. Events seem to be ordered into an ominous logic.

So, knowledge? Pynchon has it, and shows it in endless waves of connective tissues. I don't claim to understand all of it. But I have to thank him for my new-found way of thinking about this reading business of mine, my yo-yoing along the V shaped tracks of books like his, picking up bits and pieces with every passing over the same old stomping grounds. There's a surface of tin cans and plastic rubbish in those lands, and a wind whistling of ages past that sounds all the clearer the longer you walk. You can walk forward, and you can walk back, but to tread the same way twice is an impossibility, for better or for worse. ( )
6 vote Korrick | Apr 11, 2013 |
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» Add other authors (5 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Thomas Pynchonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Almansi, GuidoForewordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Øverås, LinnTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Danzas, MinnieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Grigorʹeva, GlebaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Khanina, Aleksei︠a︡Translatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Kim, Sang-guTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Martín Ramírez, CarlosTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Natale, GiuseppeTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stössel, DietrichTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Teichmann, WulfTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Christmas Eve, 1955, Benny Profane, wearing black Levi's, suede jacket, sneakers and big cowboy hat, happened to pass through Norfolk, Virginia.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060930217, Paperback)

Having just been released from the Navy, Benny Profane is content to lead a slothful existence with his friends, where the only real ambition is to perfect the art of "schlemihlhood," or being a dupe, and where "responsibility" is a dirty word. Among his pals--called the Whole Sick Crew--is Slab, an artist who can't seem to paint anything other than cheese danishes. But Profane's life changes dramatically when he befriends Stencil, an active ambitious young man with an intriguing mission--to find out the identity of a woman named V., who knew Stencil's father during the war, but who suddenly and mysteriously disappeared.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:20:41 -0400)

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Follows the orbits of old acquaintances headed for a less than harmonic convergence in Northern California in 1984.

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