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by Thomas Pynchon
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Second read: I've come to realisation that this may be one of the greatest books I've read, especially first novels by an author. If you haven't attempted this yet, you're a shlemiel.
As Yogi Berra sort of said: “When you come to a V. in the road, take it!”
So I did.
But I wish Thomas Pynchon had found a way not to take any fork leading to the soporific Stencil, no matter which character so named paraded into view. Focus on Pig Bodine! Let McClintic Sphere preside! It’d be a different book and maybe a worse one, I guess, if my wishes had been anticipated and fulfilled. I don’t care.
That’s my only big complaint.
Mr. Pynchon is funny, imaginative, and knows way more than the average Yogi (be prepared to encounter obscurities). There’s much to hold one’s interest while reading his novel and V. inspires respect for the author’s abilities. It also can strain one’s patience. How many named characters are there, 200? How many of them mattered?
V. is a curious book that becomes curiouser as things go along. Then, it ends. Don’t count on finding full satisfaction in that. But for the right reader (one whom Stencil interests), V. might be a marvel.
6. V.by Thomas Pynchon
format: 534 page Kindle e-book
acquired: Dec 25, 2015
listened: Dec 31 - Feb 11
Rating: 4½ stars
I know I should take more time and write out a more careful, and more thought-out review, one that actually captures all aspects of the book, but this just kind of poured out. And these moods are temporary things. So, posting as is - flaws and all.
I spent last night thinking about this book when I should have been sleeping. That's a far cry from where I was a few weeks ago, lost in Cairo and ready to toss the e-book...and where I was again in Florence. Namibia in 1922 was terribly disturbing, but I had to respect the effort. Malta was a bit slow too, in WWII, but had it's appeal. But Pynchon certainly never lost me for a second in Paris and when he got back to Malta again, I was fully engaged.
What the hell am I talking about, you might ask, if you haven't read this. (And probably you haven't ??) The real appeal for most of this book for me was Benny Profane, who lived a life on equal with his wonderful name. Just out of the Navy, he spent 1956 in the Virginia naval world and in the New York City underworld, until he graduated to the Whole Sick Crew, a crowd of very hippie-like eccentric, entertaining and generally useless souls (and also Rachel). The other leg of the V-ish plot includes the travelogue above and tried every which way to shake me off the book. Herbert Stencil searches for V., a woman of his father's generation, but also many other undefined and generally unobtainable mysteries. He takes us through the travelogue above by recreating other peoples stories of V. Pynchon just tries too hard in the early parts of these sections. It feels like he's showing off and it's very hard to take him seriously or care. But it pays out in the end. Eventually I not only adored the tragic lady V. but then sat wondering about all the different variations that V might be. I'm still wondering, even as I know there is no answer...I hope there is no answer.
So a gem of sorts comes out of this sometimes charming, sometimes just all too smart tangled mess.
V, by the way, could be Valletta, Malta, or Vesuvius, or many other things, but notably also a V2 rocket, which connects this book firmly with Gravity's Rainbow (which I haven't read. This is my first book by Pynchon). The rocket gets one very subtle mention. But I took it and ran. My head thinks Pynchon is, in 1963 and before, fretting about the modern world and all its destructive technology, with V2 rocket standing in for a nuclear missile. Profane yo-yo's, but he frets everything inanimate and V gets progressively more and more inanimate herself as she loses an eye and a few limbs. Humans are building and building and killing everything and Pynchon is trying to make sense of it. But it's not that simple. So he has V and we wonder. Mind you, my head could be a bit high on some Benny (a slang term for Benzedrine, an amphetamine).
Kindred's Reading Challenge: #15 A book by Jonathan Franzen, David Foster Wallace or Thomas Pynchon
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Wikipedia in English (1)
The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men -- one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose -- and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.
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Melvil Decimal System (DDC)813.54Literature English (North America) American fiction 20th Century 1945-1999
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When I heard of this book the first time, it was in a class when a professor told us that this book had the best description of Valletta he had ever read. Surprised that a book written by an American featured Malta so heavily, I bought it and promised myself I would read it and fully enjoy it one day.
This book, first off, is heavy. I’m not talking only material and plot wise, I mean physically. This book is huge and weighs a ton, but damn if it isn’t a good read. But plot-wise, there is so much going on all the time that I was very confused at first until I learned who all the characters were. It was like watching Game of Thrones for the first time and struggling to remember who everyone was and their relation to each other.
Trying to explain this book simply is a bit of a struggle, but we can try, anyway.
The story takes place in America and Malta, but it actually also bounces between a lot of different locations in flashbacks. It follows a group of disillusioned individuals – some of them navy deserters, some of them artists trying too hard to be the next best things, and some of them deadbeats and prostitutes – who all meet and live together (in some capacity) in New York City. A common tie between some of them is the island of Malta, and one particular individual named Stencil is obsessed with ‘V’. Stencil’s only problem is that he doesn’t know if V is a person, a place, or an object, and he has dedicated his entire life to finding out. In Stencil’s eyes, finding out what V is will bring him one step closer to his father, who died in Malta in the 1919 riots.
The entire novel keeps you guessing up until the last second what, who, or where V actually is, and introduces you to a host of different characters with different connections that could all be V. And Pynchon really knows how to make characters memorable. Every single one of his characters, big and small, is given a brilliantly explained backstory and exposition, making them seem so lifelike even if they are just background characters who don’t contribute much. A small thing I really enjoyed was his ties to his other novel The Crying of Lot 49, with the brief mention of an industrious company that is a big part of The Crying.
I think one of my biggest qualms with Pynchon’s writing, and it comes out very clearly in this novel, is his long-winding sentences. Sometimes I get lost reading, and forget who’s talking and what they’re talking about, which is probably why it took me so long to finish the book.
Another thing that bothered but also pleased me slightly was his use of Maltese. Pynchon tries his very best to make Valletta as accurate as possible, and he really does try to include Maltese words and names into the whole thing, which really made me happy. I wish that the spelling of Maltese words had been more accurate, but then again it is a language that most of us Maltese aren’t sure how to spell either so I can’t fault him too much for that.
However, another positive point for this novel is that he does the whole idea of magical realism quite well. While it isn’t really outright said that there is an element of magical realism to the book, there is the sense that some things are being done in that vein. There is also the way that characters speak that lends to this idea, because the way that most characters speak makes it seem like they’re actually caricatures rather than real people. And I think that Pynchon is trying to make a pretty successful point here about how our idea of the American Dream, or really of life itself, is all a caricature and isn’t real. And these characters who are striving for just that have in turn become caricatures as they try to pursue something that doesn’t exist.
Did I enjoy this book, though? Yes. Immensely. I’m really glad I read it. Do I recommend that you’re in the right head space to read it? 100%. It’s heavy, and you might need to take breaks or even take notes while you’re reading it, but it’s so worth it in the end. I give it a 4/5, simply because the long-winding sentences really put me off while I was reading, but the story ties together beautifully in the end and I can’t fault him for that, or for depicting my homeland so accurately.