V. : Thomas Pynchon

v-thomas-pynchonA conventional review of V. is hard to write. There is no plot, not much of a lesson, no real conclusion, no moral to be gleaned. It loosely follows a quest for V. across the globe. But ‘loosely’ is the operative word. What V. is no-one can say. Indeed, it is one of the biggest puzzles in the book, and is left unanswered. Rather, most of the story is an homage to pure, unaffected cool; cowboy hats, bar fights, ‘yoyoing’ on the subway and hunting crocs in the sewers of NYC. The writing is so causal, so effortless you wonder if Tommy P. even knows he is writing the stuff that carves new cult crazes.

The only reason V. didn’t become a literary whirlwind is probably, because it is a tad hard to read. Especially at first. Pynchon mercilessly brings new characters into the fold from nowhere, making you freak out, thinking you forgot them from some hundred pages back. But often they do just pop out of nowhere, and most of them are irrelevant anyway. Much of the whole book is pretty much irrelevant plot-wise. Instead it’s an atmosphere you’re imbibing; you can skim pages and just drift along for a good hundred at a time. Readers are guided through a web of barely connected subplots that could, individually, all be the basis for a novel in themselves. Some display a mind-boggling depth of imagination.

But to be fair, it’s a little more complex than just zoning out and drifting along in a charmed stupor. Occasionally Pynchon will stop you in your tracks: while gliding you across continents and decades of time, he sometimes lands you in some dark corners of history. A bizarre story set during the 1904 Namibian genocide is a particularly emotive example. The fiction suddenly becomes very real, and harrowing.  Because the book is so detached and amoral in style, you can feel a bit alienated at times. Not only that, but the historical accuracy of these settings sits in bizarre contrast with the book’s general surrealism. Makes even the most fantastical of the book’s stories seem like they could have actually happened.

In total; the book could be described as an unstructured tale about mankind. Its scope certainly circles miles above man, characters, emotion, and gives you a glimpse of something bigger and undefined. And it’s all condensed in one trailblazing odyssey you couldn’t comprehend without diving in. I have never read Pynchon’s magnum opus, the revered, feared, mammoth ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’. V. showed me I will need at least another six month’s leg stretching before trying to climb that mountain. But I imagine the book is a good base camp for acclimatizing yourself to the consummately unique way that Pynchon can challenge and inspire his readers. Best of all, his casualness makes him seem completely insensible to his own talent, which I like a lot. And all this without giving readers a plot, or characters you can relate to, or anything you would ordinarily expect for your money.

Buy from Bookshop.org UK / Bookshop.org USA

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