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A Smuggler's Bible

3.97 of 5 stars 3.97  ·  rating details  ·  138 ratings  ·  26 reviews
A Smuggler's Bible is the novel that launched the career of one of the most daring and original writers of modern fiction. Rick Moody described McElroy as one of the most supple, complex, and insightful writers of American prose . . . a contemporary voice that is surely as important as Pynchon, Gaddis, and DeLillo. Driven by despairs as vexing and persistent as they are co ...more
Paperback, 435 pages
Published July 29th 2003 by Overlook Books (first published 1966)
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Ho. Lee. Shitsnacks, I am in love.

I initially decided to read this book for two reasons: The first, to see if I like McElroy enough to warrant dropping a hearty lump of money on one of those few exorbitantly priced copies of Women and Men floating around the internet; the second, to justify preordering Cannonball. When I realized that a three-digit price tag is a bargain for the pleasure of feeding both my library and my brainmeats more than a thousand pages of McElroy's words and heady but huma
Jul 15, 2013 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Jonathan by: Nathan "N.R" Gaddis
The Smuggled Self

There are, one could argue, two main types of complexity that can exist in a novel: textual and structural. Most complex novels tend to use the former, or a combination of the two. "A Smuggler's Bible" is the first novel I have read that is structurally highly complex, whilst its prose is clear and precise (apart from some interesting moments, which I will discuss below).

It is a novel designed around a theoretical/philosophical investigation (namely that of solipsism and the
Jan 23, 2014 Gregsamsa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Gregsamsa by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis
We begin with David Brooke, on a boat, anxious about some manuscripts he's delivering to London. How simple.


As a renowned (in some circles) author of the "metafictional" persuasion, McElroy tricked me into approaching his book with certain preconceptions. I expected a winking, knowing, cooly distanced narrative voice who would, through a clever multi-lensed telescope, observe the actions of his characters. Over there. Way over there, where actions such as "construction of character" occur.

Stephen P
Sep 28, 2015 Stephen P rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: The Lovers of Possibility
Recommended to Stephen by: N.R Gaddis
Shelves: big-novels

A mine swamp. Leveled, the terrain cleared. Post nuclear. Looking about one reaps the holiness of solitude while gasping for the cling of others.

The stories in a Smuggler's Bible revolve around this or as the main character David would state, to move outside oneself and attempt an encounter is to meet with collision while to remain alone, within oneself, is to be immersed in contentment. Yet, he has begun a project. Through the writing of stories (coincidentally, what we are reading) he tries to
Published in 1966, Joseph Mcelroy's debut novel was met with such disdain/lack of interest that it is now commonly compared to both William Gaddis's the Recognitions and Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. While both Gaddis and Lowry share much more general acknowledgement than Mcelroy, all three have written mid-century masterpieces that have acquired more esteem as time moves on. In many ways, a Smuggler's Bible almost seems marketed to the whole postmodern tome set, which it pretty much is, al ...more
Reviewing this will not be easy as there is more to it than meets the eye. The title relates to the sort of hollowed out book that smugglers used in the eighteenth century.
It involves David Brooke and his wife Ellen who are on a liner crossing the Atlantic. The narrative is split into eight parts joined together by a bridging narrative which takes place on the boat. The eight parts reflect a different aspect of Brooke’s life. Each of the parts are separate enough for them almost to stand alone
I found The Smuggler's Bible to be a rumination on parasite and host. Much like an article on deconstruction, and even more like a slugfest between Bellow protagonists: imagine Herzog and Mr. Sammler in a practical death struggle over influence and affectation. Imagine constructing a musical canon and adding middlebrow references in maddening sequences. Listen to Roger Waters cover REM's Strange Currencies and consider the ironies. The Smuggler's Bible transports and imprints, much like the prot ...more
Justin Evans
Some books I can get absorbed in, losing myself in the story, or the characters, or the structure, or the style. A very few books I can read without being interested in any of this in anything other than a purely intellectual way, and this is one of them. 'A Smuggler's Bible' is more or less seven often quite bad novellas and short stories connected in so many ways that my mind, at least, was boggled; the novel that comprises these short fictions is mainly a frame designed to investigate questio ...more
Dear Remarkable Joseph McElroy,

You have written an extraordinary novel about smuggling. I missed probably half of what you wanted to say(if not more), but what I did understand, and you write beautifully I must say, was not difficult to comprehend. I enjoyed trying to discover who David Brooke was through the use of the supporting characters(including the supporting character of David himself). Your structure in the novel was a treat to read; it broke up the story to make it more complex. Your p
Me : (reading page after page of A Smuggler’s Bible) What was that!? An exhibition??

ASB: huh?

Me: We need emotional content. Try again.

ASB: (more and more interminable prose)

Me: I said “emotional content”, not anger!! Now try again, with me.

ASB: (words, words, words, then section VIII, Halsey Lives Again)

Me: That’s it!! How did it feel to you?

ASB: Let me think…

Me: (cracks ASB against the corner of the desk)

Don’t think!!! Feeeeel……

It is like a finger pointing a way to the moon. (crack)

Don’t conc
Sentimental Surrealist
Doesn't have the same "holy shit, my head is swimming" factor as Women & Men does, but still gets by just fine on its own. McElroy rips through a series of unique and authentically rendered characters, drops in the occasional moments of conversation-based entropy, and ties it all together with an astonishing device that might seem like a first-novel gimmick but, by gum, works. Fits nicely on your "postmodern urban alienation" shelf alongside V. and the Recognitions.
A smuggler's bible is an artifact that has been hollowed out to contain contraband while retaining it's holy appearance. David Brooks, self-confessed romantic solipsist, protagonist and author, smuggles himself into the point of view of eight of his most significant others. In this way, through the lens of his projections, he comes not only to inhabit a different perspective and to bridge"the dark apartness" of humans one from another,(p341) but mostly to catch sight of himself as he appears in ...more
James Murphy
A cover blurb suggested A Smuggler's Bible resembles The Recognitions. Other than the prose being symphonic--full, rich--in the same way, I failed to see the resemblance. A Gaddis novel is difficult. But the reader can follow the narrative and its nests of allusion and themes fairly easily. A McElroy novel is different. This is my 3d, following Women and Men, his 6th novel, and Actress in the House, his 8th. Unable to finish the latter, I should have known I'd have trouble with this one. Made up ...more
What is it with debut novels written by young male authors about withdrawn, over-intellectual, under-socialized young men? I'm starting to see how Charles Bukowski got a foothold: read enough of these, and a book about a womanizing drunk becomes a welcome breath of fresh air.

Still, McElroy does a good job with this one. David Brooke, his protagonist, has set himself the task of creating a self-portrait, or perhaps a memoir, by "projecting himself" into other people, and using their point of view
If you've read all of William Gaddis and are wondering where to get more of a similar thing, Joseph McElroy will do perfectly. This one is reminiscent of The Recognitions at times with its preoccupations with forgeries and questions of what constitutes authenticity in a broader philosophic context.
I also enjoyed the extremely specific Brooklyn Heights and Upper West Side geography, calling to mind Paul Auster a tiny bit.
A beautiful meditation on intersubjectivity and memory and a fantastic entry point into Joe's superlative catalog. What's perhaps most remarkable is how accessible/playful this novel is while expertly laying the ground for the author's later increasingly abstract/difficult, though thematically akin, novels (W&M and Hind's, in particular). Highly recommended.
compared to gaddis and pynchon, but really it's mostly gaddis - the raw material so to speak of the elaborate form is, like gaddis and not like pynchon, observation of relationships (cassavetes-esque at times, at others a little more bizarre but treated in the same realist vein) - nice idea (implicit) that an author only understands others insofar as they exhibit elements of his own character (reminds me of savage detectives - a million voices that are all sort of the same) - suppose that could ...more
Joseph Nicolello
Dec 24, 2013 Joseph Nicolello marked it as to-read
In a life of literature and New York, my experience with McElroy has been brief and intense - I find myself today drinking a beer before noon on Christmas Eve, wondering why the hell I have not read A Smuggler's Bible. A while back I found an edition of Women and Men at a booksale for fifty cents. I shit you not. I spent much time with the book and not long after it became something of a cult classic on this website, much to my surprise. I mailed my edition to a desperate reader which was ransac ...more
This is, as everyone tells you, a challenging little read, eight connected narratives loosely dealing with the character of David Brooke, where sometimes he's the protagonist but more often somewhere off to the side. These episodes are interrupted by a present day story of David assembling, revising, and preparing these episodes while on a cruise ship, which doesn't sound too difficult, till you realize that these sections are narrated by a separate consciousness in David's head. So there.

The bo
Stiff & clinical; proper as tea and titmice; no real chances taken or rules bent/broken (syntax is perfect). Still, I've only put it down for a couple days at a time. McElroy does a good job of pinning down emotional trauma and longing and etc. w/out stooping to the usual tactics -- no comic book sadism a la Selby, Jr., no cheap maudlin fuck-isms a la Bukowski, no obvious grime or grit 'tween pages, no, but he mines the human psyche like a headshrinker elbow-greasing. Delicate as all hell. R ...more
What a mental trip! Brilliant writing and structured like a labyrinth. If I understood more than half of the scene McElroy laid out, as I hope I did, I did well. Though another read or an advanced course in literature on the book wouldn't hurt. This sprawling book can be tough with it's shift in perspective, constant references to science/philosophy/etc., but if you want the literary equivalent to the NYT Sunday Crossword, here's your man.
3.5 stars. Disappointing. Definitely not in a class with the Recognitions as the back-cover blurb would have it, and nowhere near Under the Volcano. A good piece of work but not very beautiful or interesting. Also, pretty derivative of Gaddis and Salinger. Chapter IV "An American Hero" was really good though.
A dense and oblique document with a protean narration that shows off the author's virtuoso talent. However it's also confusing as fuck and pales in comparison to some of the postmodern books written during the same era (pynchon, barth, etc.)
Aug 02, 2007 Mike rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: MFA students/nobody else
Wow. This guy McElroy can certainly write - unique points of view, brilliant stretches of narrative and dialogue, imaginative structure, etc. In the end, however, I got lost in whatever was meant to be the story that held everything together.
Jenn Stebbings
I couldn't finish it. It was like a Seinfeld episode but without the funny. I couldn't find a plot anywhere. I rarely don't finish books, but I just couldn't bring myself to continue with the torture.
What a debut. The prose is not yet sinuous and "difficult", but McElroy pulls out the stops in terms of novel construction.
Antilights marked it as to-read
Sep 30, 2015
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Sep 29, 2015
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Joseph McElroy is an American novelist, short story writer, and essayist.

McElroy grew up in Brooklyn Heights, NY, a neighborhood that features prominently in much of his fiction. He received his B.A. from Williams College in 1951 and his M.A. from Columbia University in 1952. He served in the Coast Guard from 1952–4, and then returned to Columbia to complete his Ph.D. in 1961. As an English instru
More about Joseph McElroy...
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