Thursday, October 14, 2010

Thomas Pynchon

Thomas Pynchon is like someone who talks to himself far too much and always in blustering major chords. As such he is rather exhausting. On the other hand about half of what he says is enthralling so at the end of the day he is worth the effort. There are dozens of radiant and exhilarating vignettes in Gravity’s Rainbow. I’ve just done the English sweets scene which was splendid though there’s the obligatory slipshod lack of editing: “his tongue a hopeless holocaust” – is that “hopeless” funny or just absurd? I think maybe it’s his vision which is his problem. For starters this, like the other book of his I’ve read, is rife with paranoia. There’s always this omnipresent ominous THEY out there – and as a result we have the feeling we’re being sold the bargain bin dualities of a Jehovah’s Witness. I think another problem is, he sets out by asking us to believe that this might be one of the greatest books ever written – which it patently isn’t. Once though one has recycled these misgivings there’s masses of excitement to be derived from his writing. He’s wonderfully like a motorist who takes no notice of the roads – and what fun it is to see him ploughing in reverse gear, with the windows rolled down, through people’s Sunday afternoon flower arrangements.


  1. It was good to see this. And although it was many years ago that I read GR, much of it still echoes. I remember some of the early scenes, the dope and the bananas growing on the rooftop (er? in London?). And the V2s. The source of the title. The first things faster than sound. The word on the streets… if you could hear them you were safe, but when the sound cut out, one of them was heading for you…

    But most of all I remember his descriptions of the post 1945 shuffle that took place in Central Europe, the millions with their hand-carts and cardboard suitcases pushed like pawns across arbitrary boundaries by an omniscient post-Yalta triad desperate to preserve peace. This bit never really made the history books, but Pynchon brought it alive, took it to the endless straight roads of the Oder and Neisse valleys, through pine forest 2000 miles thick. They had a filmic quality, those scenes of mass displacement, reinvented and reinvigorated by Cimino in his exasperating beautiful masterpiece western (Heaven’s Gate) about the Jackson County Wars.

    And for a while, I lived on the Baltic coast of Prussia, amongst the dunes and the lagoons near Peenemunde, where those terrifying rockets were built and launched. I read later that he’d never been there, took it all from Beideker. I almost cried, and vowed that I’d never write about a place I hadn’t been too.

    Though deeply flawed, still in my Top 10 of the 20th C.

  2. That's a far more judicious and fair assessment than my narcissistic tomfoolery, Pete.
    One of my proposed projects is to write a series of essays on 20th century writers in a chatty entertaining vernacular as advocated by Virginia Woolf in her Common Reader series. I want to do Joyce, Proust, Woolf, Lawrence, Forster, Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Nabokov, Pynchon, Bellow, Delillo, Martin Amis, Kundera and maybe a couple of others.

  3. That's a brilliant choice, Glenn. Only one of those I haven't read (or indeed heard of - who Delillo?). I can't wait.

    Meanwhile, I shall dust off my chatty entertaining lobe (last used back in the heady days of '96), in readiness for a response.

  4. What Mr. Shelly said - can't improve on it; spot on.
    But does anybody remember the hilarious bit about Mickey Rooney in GR? Worth the book alone.

    Great stuff about the Beideker!

    - B