Matt's Reviews > The Armies of the Night: History as a Novel, the Novel as History

The Armies of the Night by Norman Mailer
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's review
Jan 19, 2011

really liked it
Read in January, 2011 , read count: 1

It's as if Mailer read George Orwell's "Politics and the English Language" and set out to prove Orwell wrong. Very rarely can I get through a book whose gratuitous use of overly-complex syntax and thesaurus-worthy words without thinking that the author is simply a bloviating douche with nothing to say. Mailer falls into that rarity.

Don't get me wrong; Mailer loves himself, but fortunately for the reader it is not to his/her detriment. Mailer's use of prose is unparalleled, except for a select few authors who are mentioned alongside him quite often when discussing narrative non-fiction.

Armies of the Night is broken down into two books; there is the first book, which recounts Mailer's experience at a Vietnam War rally at the Pentagon in October, 1967. The beginning's a little slow, but that could have simply been my needing to get used to Mailer's writing style and verbosity. The novelized account of his weekend, however, is great and engaging after the first 20-30 pages.

The second part of the book–the novel as history–is less than thrilling. Mailer wastes too many pages (about 30) describing the negotiation process to even get a part of the Pentagon lawn open to protesters. Mailer just points out that it's ridiculous for two enemies (protesters and the government) to sit down and negotiate battle terms and tactics. I agree, but I just wrote it in one sentence; Mailer took 30 pages.

But some of the best parts in the book come in the last 40 pages, which describes what happened at the Pentagon while Mailer was in jail awaiting his time before the Commissioner. Mailer captures the mood of the protesters and the anxiety of the nights (and the rest of the events) very well. There's a reason, after all, that this book won a Pulitzer.

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