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V. A Novel by Thomas Pynchon

V. A Novel (original 1963; edition 1968)

by Thomas Pynchon

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3,689281,424 (4.07)96
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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English (23)  French (3)  Dutch (1)  Spanish (1)  All languages (28)
Showing 1-5 of 23 (next | show all)
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. ( )
  stillatim | Dec 29, 2013 |
Pynchon and I have a love/hate relationship. The man is brilliant in his own right but he fails to appeal to me. Moderism just isn't my cup of tea. I do find his writing unique, original and initially intimidating. I was much more more successful with V.than Crying of Lot 49.I fancied V. much more as well. Now that I am no longer intimidated by Pychon, this read was more relaxed and I actually "got it" without wanting to bang my head into a brick wall. I realized I'm not stupid Pynchon is nothing short of brilliant. Reading his work is similar to playing with a Rubik's cube, took me a while before my breakthrough aha moment.

V. carries many themes, some overt, some tucked away until you unleash their presence. You'll find in V. a theme of "searching" as well as "replacement." I don't want to elaborate as to leading to spoilers, however, in my experience these two themes were present.

Whatever you have heard about Pynchon - good/bad, take a shot and enjoy the experience. He might turn out to be your favorite author, his style might appeal to you but you'll never know unless you try. For goodness sake don't be intimated like I was, you'll waste time reading into more than what's printed. Relax and enjoy, whatever the outcome it will be a ride you'll remember. ( )
  Melinda_H | Sep 15, 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 |
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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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