Saturday 10 August 2013

V. by Thomas Pynchon

“Life's single lesson: that there is more accident to it than a man can ever admit to in a lifetime and stay sane.”

The question remains: Who or what exactly is the mysterious "V"? Even after 600+ pages, there is no clear answer and to be honest, I really don't care to wrack my brain over it. Is she an actual person or a metaphor? Perhaps both. Or maybe she is simply a MacGuffin--like the brief-case in "Pulp Fiction"--an abstract concept with no real value other than functioning as a plot device to move the narrative forward. Unfortunately, there is no pay-off at the end and much of the novel is a sprawling mess. As one of the main characters named Stencil (almost every single character possesses some kind of figurative appellation), later states, "events seem to be ordered in an ominous logic" (449). Indeed. Thomas Pynchon's novels are notorious for being challenging and after struggling through V, which often left me baffled, producing the urge to pull my hair from its roots, I can certainly attest to this fact. It's not so much that the story is difficult to follow exactly but rather, his abstruse style of writing often engulfs the actual narrative: he employs sophisticated diction (be sure to have a dictionary handy) with an oblique, protracted and playful aesthetic, overflowing with latent metaphors, information and references that can be overwhelming to the new initiate. Go ahead, call me a dolt for not being able to fully comprehend the literary genius of Thomas Pynchon but if this debut novel shares certain characteristics with his other works, consider me extremely apprehensive to seek out anything else written by him--his esoteric style is just not my cup of earl-grey.

I wish Pynchon had focused more on the character of Benny Profane--the self proclaimed "schlemiel" who drifts around New York, working odd jobs (ex: alligator hunting in the sewers), adopting a bohemian lifestyle--or on the other eccentric members of the "Sick Crew" such as Pig Bodine and Slab (an artist who only paints cheese danishes). These sections are often very amusing in a bizarre way. However, the novel becomes increasingly frustrating when it switches to the character of Stencil who is searching for "V" in the hopes of discovering her true identity. He comes across various clues and then provides a "Stencilized" version of the evidence, which in turn, provides Pynchon the opportunity to write some of the most self-indulgent, convoluted and pedantic prose that I have ever encountered. His vocabulary and encyclopedic knowledge is impressively vast (even more astounding is that he wrote this novel at the age of 26!) but these Stencil chapters come across like stylistic masturbation.

If I disliked the novel so much then why give it 2 stars? Again, Benny Profane is a wonderful character and his chapters along with other members of the "Sick Crew" (of course, excluding Stencil) were the most rewarding aspects. Also, there is a "great" novel buried deep somewhere in this ambitious monstrosity but it will require a great deal of effort on the part of the reader to dig for it: a thorough analysis of each chapter would be a start. Good luck.

Monday 5 August 2013

It's Monday! What are you Reading?

Happy Civic holiday fellow Canadians! It's not a statutory holiday but I'm celebrating it as one because I finally get a day off, which means, it's time to catch up on some reading. Thanks again Sheila from Book Journey for hosting this weekly meme. 

Last week I finished Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky but have been too intimidated to write a review for it yet. It's a huge multifaceted novel and it is difficult not to write something about it and come across as redundant. 

Right now I am slowly making my way through Thomas Pynchon's V.  

Yikes, this is proving to be one of the most challenging reads in recently memory. Not only is it disorienting stylistically, but it is also downright baffling at times. There are times when I seem to grasp what is going on but then the wacky narrative shifts to more abstruseness or Pynchon loses me with historical references, cryptic passages, the multitude of characters or jarring points of reference. Despite my endless frustrations, there is something strangely alluring about Pynchon's esoteric writing. He's obviously a very smart man with an expansive vocabulary and an encyclopedic mind but it can be very overwhelming at times. As his first novel, I fear that it might turn out to be an exercise in style; a young author attempting to push the boundaries of post-modernism. I find that the novel is more enjoyable if I stop wracking my brain over all of the incomprehensible details and just let the prose wash over me. Oddly enough, the more I read, the more it begins to makes sense. Sorta. I am still uncertain whether he can sustain a 600 page novel and I constantly waver between abandoning it or continuing on to the end. Hmmmm...

Has anyone else read this (or anything else by Pynchon for that matter) and can provide me with reassurance that it is worth the effort?