Nate D's Reviews > V.

V. by Thomas Pynchon
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's review
Nov 17, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: post-modernism, read-in-2008, favorites, 60s-re-de-construction
Recommended to Nate D by: Jeff Geisinger
Recommended for: Schlemiels, adventurers, foreign agents
Read in November, 2008

What to say of Pynchon's half-century spanning epic?

Like Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's first novel (published, I think, at an astonishing age 26) is concerned with questions of life and death, here both at the internal, personal scale of our relations to people, things, and the outer world, and on a broad international scale of war, colonialism, and political intrigue. Linking the two, Herbert Stencil, adventurer and obsessed historian, tracking the intertwined history of his British foreign office agent father and the enigmatic V., represented in various forms across 50 years in a slow progression towards the inanimate. Questions of the animate and inanimate worlds serve as central life/death dichotomy here, and the novel is filled to the brim with significant objects, automatons, prostheses, and bouts of tourism/colonialism (both of which, it seems, are joined in their ability to take a living place and convert it to small spheres of inanimacy, both literal, in a truly chilling Sudwest setpiece, and metaphorical, everywhere else people cluster around notable buildings and monuments (embodied by frequent references to mid 19th-century travel guide writer Karl Baedeker)).

Stencil himself, curiously, seems to be one of only a few characters in the teeming cast not occupying an obvious spot on an animate to inanimate continuum, as his obsessions simultaneously encompass the human and inhuman worlds (people, but lost to the unliving past). His off-the-scale foil is ultimate sad-sack ex-seamen Benny Profane, whose role as uber-schlemiel seemingly places him at both the far left position of animacy (the born bungler's natural enemy, we are told, being the inanimate objects that conspire to trip them up like so many banana peels (which, fortunately, appear nowhere in the novel -- it would just be too much)) and the deepest inanimacy of sloth and of one who, giving in to his perceived (self-created?) role, inevitably sabotages every human relationship he finds himself in. Potential Profane paramour Rachel Owlglass, on the other hand, may sit at the fulcrum and be as a result the novel's healthiest character overall.

What can be said? Lots apparently, and yet much, much more than I can possibly describe here. What matters most is that the novel is beautiful and tragic, a marvel of both clockwork convergent plotting and the ultimate nonconvergent spinout of human passions. And one which manages to be considerably more gripping and less opaque than some of the subsequent Pynchon I've read.

I've seen the book described elsewhere as "cubist". It is an accurate term, evoking both the book's violent modernism and chorus of impossible angles. Angles which, we find, are still capable of describing a human portrait.
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Reading Progress

11/19 page 142
28.86% "It should come as no surprise that Pynchon writes a better horrifying, funny, informative plastic surgery scene than Palaniuk."
11/19 page 142
28.86% "and unsurprised to find that Pynchon writes a great horrifying, funny, informative Rhinoplasty scene"
01/05 marked as: read-in-2008

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