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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

V. (1963) by Thomas Pynchon

V. was Thomas Pynchon's first novel, published in 1963.
Book Review
V. (1963)
 by Thomas Pynchon

  I'd probably cite Thomas Pynchon as my favorite author, but now that I've made it all the way up to 1963 in the 1001 Books list, I'm beginning to question why.  None of his books, with the possible exception of Inherent Vice are what you would call "fun."   Most of them are a positive chore to read.  I think my fondness for Pynchon has more to do with my own self-image vs. any actual enjoyment I derive from any of his books.  I approached V. with a jaundiced eye.  V. was Pynchon's debut novel, and it made him an instant literary star, which was all the more remarkable considering his absolute refusal to engage in any of the elements of celebrity culture.

 As first novels go, V. was a fully realized vision and it contains many of the themes and topics that dominate Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's widely acknowledged masterpiece.  I read V. on my Kindle, and the features that allow you to press a character's name and see all mentions of said character in the book (called "X Ray") was very useful in keeping track of the wide range of characters, plot points, locations and movements forward and backward in time.

  Also useful was the Kindle feature that allows you to look up dictionary definitions, Wikipedia entries and translations likewise by simply pressing on the desired word or phrase.  Pynchon's books- all of them- are so dense with allusions and references that there is an entire cottage industry in secondary sources for his more well-known books.  With the features of the Kindle, such secondary sources are no longer required.

   The irony is that Pynchon was (of course) one of the last hold outs to allow publication of his books in an electronic format.  V. is "about" the search for a mysterious female figure that spans Africa, Europe and North America.  The major characters are Stencil, an English diplomat and his similarly named son; Benny Profane, an ex-Navy recruit who wallows in vintage 50s New York bohemia with his Whole Sick Crew.  He has various relationships with women and drifts from job to job, expressing a near constant lack of respect for normal society.

  Eventually all the characters end up in Malta- the point at which the two lines of the V meet, and nothing is resolved. Like many of Pynchon's books, it is little moments or specific chapters that stand out, rather than any over-arching plot.

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