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A Smuggler's Bible

4.04  ·  Rating details ·  231 ratings  ·  35 reviews
"A Smuggler's Bible is the novel that launched the career of one of the most daring and original writers of modern fiction. Driven by despairs as terrible as they are comic, David Brooke sets out to "project" himself into the lives of other people. One may wonder what ties connect the figures whose diverse experiences are conjured up by Brooke's uncanny necromancy, what ar ...more
Paperback, 435 pages
Published July 29th 2003 by Overlook Books (first published 1966)
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Vit Babenco
Mar 06, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Smuggler's Bible is a very complex and multilayered novel and it is a tortuous voyage to the world of falsehood and delusion.
“…but the amount of smuggling that gets carried on even on a ship like this!”
Right away Joseph McElroy postulates that everyone in this world is a smuggler. Wherever one goes, one smuggles there one’s ego and identity. Wherever we go, we smuggle along our memories and our past.
Seeing a person or place after many years, we’re saddened if there’s been a great change; yet
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
Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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
Stephen P
Dec 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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 t
Dec 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing
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.

May 28, 2019 rated it it was amazing

I must admit I began reading McElroy’s 1966 first novel, A Smuggler’s Bible, with some trepidation. McElroy is one of those guys who writes big post-modernist meta-fictional books, think (JR Gaddis, David Foster Wallace, Thomas Pynchon, Don DeLilo) that take lots of time and energy to read because they are always challenging the reader and operating on multiple levels, often trying to conceal or somehow prove their own existence. But I figured I was up for it, and so I opened the book and re
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Project Yourself

Like his protagonist (the parenthetical David Brooke who hails from the neighbourhood of Brooke-lyn Heights), Joseph McElroy uses his first novel (from 1966) to project himself into the lives of others. Indeed, this is his methodology as well. He analyses, synthesises, assimilates, projects.

He defines (and re-defines) himself by projecting himself into a community of people surrounding him. He locates links and pursues them along the chain of interconnectedness (pre-HTML and arti
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Do we not use each other to slip across the frontiers of self-scrutiny as something other than lonely people?

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
Aug 31, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
Nov 28, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
My second McElroy after Ancient History. This one is more
Impressive than Enjoyable. Lots of interesting things going on in terms of structure and content—and it leaves you a little cold as solipsism should.

There’s a frightening truth in this work about the existence of self as unknowable, and identity as narrative. The “meta” aspect of the novel (wherein the authorial voice breaks in and speaks to and of the main character) as well as the title raises the question of where we should look to ext
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: post-modern
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
Jan 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favoritism, mcelroy
Every once in a long while, a book comes into you life that rearranges your understanding of the possibilities of the novel at an almost cellular level. A Smuggler's Bible was that for me. It is an embarrassingly rich book whose postmodern reach never exceeds the masterful grasp of its author. I noted in the discussion group that it may be more assured than V. I didn't mean to say that one is necessarily better than the other, just that McElroy's comparably paginated first book has little to no ...more
Dec 05, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015-read
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
Justin Evans
Mar 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
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
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
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
Sentimental Surrealist
Apr 09, 2014 rated it really liked it
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. ...more
Jul 04, 2012 rated it it was amazing
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.
Kirk Smith
Jul 13, 2017 rated it did not like it
Shelves: postmodern-meta
Quasimetaphysical ponderings. Self-imprisonment. Solipsism. Disconnectedness. Yay! What fun to read.
Jul 25, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
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. ...more
James Murphy
Nov 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
Mar 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
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
Erik Wyse
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
A Smuggler's Bible lives and breathes with its characters, a rich tapestry expertly drawn by McElroy. McElroy, like Pynchon and Gaddis, abides by the central conceit that the greatest fiction of all is the ongoing march of History, forever intertwined by the fallibility of memory, and the circumstances and lives of those cataloging. It is a shame that McElroy is not more widely read and discussed.
Mar 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 31, 2011 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: experimental
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
Eric Cecil
Aug 18, 2009 rated it liked it
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. Read ...more
not fascinating, not absorbing; in fact the publisher blurbs can all go choke on their god damn hyperbole, especially the one that compares this mess to pynchon. i threw mcelroy's canonball across the room before i hesitantantly picked this one up - how can 150 other goodreaders be wrong? NOT SURE but maybe they work at the overlook press or are friends with good ole joe...let me tell ya i have absolutely no problem standing alone in my distaste for this "pomo" poopoo, you can have it.

what does
Mar 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
Jan 14, 2013 rated it really liked it
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.
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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

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“Do we not use each other to slip across the frontiers of self-scrutiny as something other than lonely people?” 1 likes
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