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24 July 2009 @ 11:24 pm
V., by Thomas Pynchon

Because no one criticises books properly these days - if they ever did - they tend to fall into one of two categories in terms of back-cover reviews: 'Unputownable' and 'Brilliant.' This is definitely a contender for the 'brilliant' category. For one thing, folks said so! For another, reading it was like taking slimy medication or doing three hours on a cross-trainer. I got into my car today, drove to the next town and bought choc chips just to avoid reading it. Then I made cookies while reading it. As each page takes so long to finish, being without fail pointlessly meandering, I ended up creaming the sugar properly for the first time in my life. I am usually too impatient to do it right - besides, my main objective in baking cookies is eating raw dough; the final result invariably ends up burned.

I think ol' Tommy P must be sniggering into his sleeve about the fact that people took a book about alligators and nose-jobs and spies so seriously. It's the fucking Da Vinci Code for Smart people, I'm serious.

The Times said he 'writes with enormous skill and virtuosity'. Yeah, because I counted two misspellings and multiple overuses of the word 'leprous' to describe stuff. Maybe V actually stands for Very Reluctant to Use Question Marks? (I am not even kidding.) (Oh how I wish I was.)

So basically, this ended up being a book about Stencil - who refers to himself in the third person and has a father also named in the book as Stencil, which is VERY VERY ANNOYING - finding his mom? Who had a false eye. That creeped me out so much. As did the part where her lover was IMPALED THROUGH THE VAGINA. I'm guessing ol' Tommy P (we had a lot of conversations, me and ol' Tommy P, mostly beginning 'I HATE YOU I HATE YOU WATCH ME HATING YOU') was either a part of the Beat Generation of misogynistic asshole female-haters, or mates with them, because women sure get short shrift in this book.

Angel might have been satisfied only with her life, Profane didn't know how deep the code ran. He couldn't go in and stop it; didn't know if he wanted to.


girls approached with organ at the ready, their eyes filming over in anticipated pleasure

Echoes of my favourite, Sal Paradise! I bet he too would think that women ENTRAMMELLED IN SLAVERY or in ANY OTHER CIRCUMSTANCE would be DELIGHTED to be not just raped, but KILLED AND THEN RAPED.

"A woman wants to feel like a woman," breathing hard, "is all. She wants to be penetrated, taken, ravished. But more than that she wants to enclose the man."

Seriously, Sal/ol' Tommy P. There is not enough LOL NO in the WORLD.

Someone had set a blaze in the fireplace and was roasting a cat he'd found in the street.

Not shades of Sal this time, but those of his asshole friend (god, that could really apply to anyone in On the Road, my bad!) who tried to drown cats. WHY YOU BE HATIN'?

Moving on to another topic: ol' Tommy's irrepressible pretentiousness.

For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world's affliction, that outgoing sorrow which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence.


How do you 'indulge in being simply and purely young' without, you know, actually doing anything?

There are some reasonably witty lines.

Okay, there are three.

1. His to mark up, to set mousetraps off in. More than any paid passenger would ever do for her. (I don't actually remember why I found this funny. But that will just further illuminate why this book as a whole is so unfunny.)

2. She talked perhaps overmuch of religion; had indeed for a time considered the Son of God as a young lady will consider any eligible bachelor. But had realised eventually that of course he was not but maintained instead a great harem clad in black, decked only with rosaries.

3. "Moffit," Stencil said after a while, puffing meditatively, "if there is ever a plot to assassinate the Foriegn Minister, I pray I never get assigned to the job of preventing it. Conflict of interest, you know."

Plus two salient points made on humankind, quite apart from the bullshitting on 'identity' that clutters the whole book. Seriously, he should have stuck to writing about people hunting alligators in the sewers of New York (actual alligators, y'all!) and priests trying to convert rats. That part was actually good, although what Profane had to do with anything I still don't know. Methinks ol’ Tommy siphoned in those parts to make up wordcount in the manner of Charlie Dick(ens). The part with the rainbow spider monkeys in Vheissu - also good! I wanted more about the crazy sekkrit land. Do you think I got it? NO.

1. All of which went to support his private thesis that correction - along all dimensions: social, political, emotional - entrails retreat to a diametric opposite rather than any reasonable search for a golden mean.

2. These children knew what was happening: knew that bombs killed. But what's a human, after all? No different from a church, obelisk, statue. Only one thing matters: it's the bomb that wins.

That's a pretty good one to end on, actually.

Previously, on Book Glomp 2009:
He Knew He Was Right, Anthony Trollope |The Bostonians, Henry James | For Whom the Bell Tolls, Ernest Hemingway | For Esme - with Love and Squalor, JD Salinger | The Outsider, Albert Camus | The Princess Diaries: Ten out of Ten, Meg Cabot | The Vicar of Bullhampton, Anthony Trollope | Molesworth, Geoffrey Willans | Villette, Charlotte Bronte | The Portrait of a Lady, Henry James | The Way of All Flesh, Samuel Butler | Cecilia, Fanny Burney | The Catcher in the Rye, JD Salinger | The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Muriel Spark | Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut | Valley of the Dolls, Jacqueline Susann | Siddhartha, Herman Hesse | The White Tiger, Aravind Adiga | The Duke and I, Julia Quinn | Brave New World, Aldous Huxley | North and South, Elizabeth Gaskell | Cider with Rosie, Laurie Lee | Catch-22, Joseph Heller | Bright Shiny Morning, James Frey | Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck | The Demon's Lexicon, Sarah Rees Brennan | The Age of Innocence, Edith Wharton | jPod, Douglas Coupland | 'Are these my basoomas I see before me?', Louise Rennison | Faro's Daughter, Georgette Heyer | Anansi Boys, Neil Gaiman | The Accidental Sorcerer, K.E. Mills | Ethan of Athos, Lois McMaster Bujold
Current Mood: bitchybitchy
Current Music: broom people // the mountain goats
down the hills and round the bendsnorton_gale on July 25th, 2009 02:38 am (UTC)
I gave up on Pynchon after not being able to get past page 100 of Gravity's Rainbow. Good for you for staying the course, at least.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: disco ballscoradh on July 25th, 2009 10:00 am (UTC)
I began these inverted comma reviews because I managed to battle through Middlemarch (only because the alternative was studying for the USMLEs, though). I didn't have a great track record for finishing books I didn't like until I started venting my rage. I'm still not sure I'm gaining anything by doing it, though!
zeemversezeemverse on July 25th, 2009 05:10 am (UTC)
I am awed by your ability to tolerate litshit.

I think your book glomp needs another tag, "taking one for the team".
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Candy lipsscoradh on July 25th, 2009 09:57 am (UTC)
LITSHIT! I love it. I am adopting this phrase and I will feed it ... nachos and it will be mine forever, yesss.

IDK, this whole idea has turned from 'self-education' to 'refusing to let books BEAT ME.' D:
zeemversezeemverse on July 25th, 2009 10:13 am (UTC)
Eeexcellent. I am a meme unto myself.

It's so delightfully masochistic!

I admit I have done this before, but only so I have ammunition to yell at people who liked it!
Parable of the Goblingreygoblin on July 28th, 2009 01:27 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much for saving me from reading this book. Everyone recommends it, and now I know to simply laugh in their faces.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: tattooscoradh on July 28th, 2009 07:30 pm (UTC)
They do? You must report back to me exactly why on earth WHY. I'd love to hear the other side's reasoning.
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on August 17th, 2009 09:21 am (UTC)
Well, one of my teachers at lit college said that Pynchon was maybe hard to digest, but essential.

I think it has to do with the fact that he's representative for his time and that he paints well his era.

Also, I don't care if the characters are unlikable. I find interesting to watch how their lives play out even if they're the scourge of the society or plain idiots. The storylines are what matters to me. I actually found Sal Paradise sort of endearing, although I hated the main character from Sartre's the Nausea, even if he wasn't really a bad guy. And I don't think Pynchon tries to glorify his characters. He just creates them and plays with them. Even if they're scum.

I think that's one of the reasons JK was so criticized: because in Harry Potter the good characters are too good. Well, with exceptions. And good wins in the end, which may not happen neither in RL, nor in realistic prose. But HP is a children's book.

I haven't read V yet. I'm at page 15 or so. But I'm browsing through your reviews and I see that one of the main reasons for disliking books are, for you, that the main characters weren't good guys. I can't remember reading about with a good guy as a main character lately though, they all seem to be taken just out of real life, opportunistic and misogynistic. I think these books are just meant to show, and maybe educate by the power of the negative example, though I think it's different for each of them.

But it is that these main chars do not try to change the world or to save it or to do good. Their aim is survival and having a good time. On the road and V are realistic prose, some sort of. They show. They do not present the adorned truth. Because fiction sometimes is not moralistic by default, and it's precisely that which makes it good.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Eddie Izzard: cake or death?scoradh on August 17th, 2009 12:04 pm (UTC)
Well, one of my teachers at lit college said that Pynchon was maybe hard to digest, but essential.

I can imagine s/he would. It's not like Pynchon's ever going to be a beachside bestseller, or even the sort of literature people like to read (like Hemingway or Salinger). If profs of literature didn't pimp him out, no one would bloody read him.

Oscar Wilde once said: The good end happily and the bad unhappily. That is what fiction means. The more I read, the more I'm inclined to agree. I think people like Pynchon and Keroauc could have sold me more on their shithead protagonists if they had any talent for actual writing; sadly not the case.

Because fiction sometimes is not moralistic by default, and it's precisely that which makes it good.

Or bad, in these cases. Your arguments seem like scraping the barrel to come up with a reason why people should not just read, but worship books like these. I wouldn't mind if the moral was that evil always wins or people suck. I love the film Lord of War. I've just never got the point of writing to represent reality. It's a technical impossibility, as everyone has their own reality. You find these books realistic, perhaps, because their reality is more closely aligned with your own; I find them ridiculous puff because my reality is about improving myself in every way I can. Neither one is right or wrong. But, in the end, these are just my unvarnished thoughts. I'm not trying to write a literary critique, I don't have the creditentials (or the bullshit tolerance).

(I also get too easily riled up! D:)
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on August 17th, 2009 12:36 pm (UTC)
I'm not worshipping them. I'm not even saying I like them. I am, however a 1984 and Nirvana fan. So, probably I am inclined to like the POVs of individuals who stop at finding things bleak and do not actively try to change the world.

If I remember correctly, Nirvana did give a lot of comfort to a lot of people who found someone who felt the way they do - the grunge generation. The same way people find comfort in reading fics for example.

Not saying that your opinion isn't valid. People should fight to make the world a nicer, safer place.

Since I haven't finished either V or On the road, I'll stop talking about them. Thing is, that teacher is quite inclined to say, "yes, you have to study this, but personally I hate it", so it's not like he'd be lying to get us to read something which isn't even included in any program.

They are however telling us, at my college, that we can't judge the value of a book through moral criteria. In the end, we'll never know the true intentions of the author.

Real Life, the way I meant it, was not intended to equate my perception or yours or any particular writer's, but the common things we all agree that exist, with the possible exception of mental patients: sky which is blue, grass which is green etc.

A book isn't of course, real life, sometimes it's a darkened version of it, sometimes is beautified or a parody. But I hear that what Kerouac described was pretty close to what really was, you know? And It has at least this value.

But I don't agree with Oscar Wilde, who, if I remembered correctly, happened to kill off the good painter in The Picture of D G.

People aren't stupid enough to only understand what's good and what's wrong if they see it clearly marked. They can also read between the lines. Well, most of them can. But you can't limit the circulation of a book.

Generally, people don't even like motivational books. A subtler way needs to be found.

You are, of course, right that what happens in both these books is by no means an example. Though artists have generally had weird disorganised, even not-so-sane lives.

And I don't find traveling all over the USA something bad. His attitude towards people, I agree with you.
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on August 17th, 2009 12:40 pm (UTC)
In case it's not clear, what I'm trying to do is emphasize the shades of grey between two opposed viewpoints. The lovers and the haters, if you want.

But I understand where you come from, and people like Sal do more harm than good to those who come in contact with them.
every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: singingscoradh on August 17th, 2009 12:56 pm (UTC)
You have given me SO much to think about. That's why I'm so prickly, lol. My aim in reading books like these was to see what I was missing out on. Maybe I'm too stuck in the mindset of the victorious pleb, who can see clearly through the layers of froth to the shit underneath. I have a little trouble admitting I'm not 100% right...

I didn't realise, either, that I was applying such stringent morals to all these books. My sense of disgust is so easily roused. I wonder why that is?

ANYWAY. Thank you.
meddie_flowmeddie_flow on August 17th, 2009 04:40 pm (UTC)
You have also given me a lot to think about. Because you also have a point. And there are also times when rigid morals have their place.

But you've given me a bit of insight about why I like the things I like, sort of. Which is really good, as I like discovering psych stuff about myself. So, thanks!

I'll use this opportunity to thank you for all the glorious fanfic, too.

every Starbucks should have a polar bear: Art: Bollywoodscoradh on August 17th, 2009 05:43 pm (UTC)
It's weird; I always thought morality and religiosity were inextricably linked, and because I wasn't the latter I probably wasn't the former. But you've struck a chord: I like 'good guys', I like effort, I like changing the world for the better or trying and failing. I'm a real black-and-white moralist.

lol, thanks! There's been little enough of that of late...