ISBN: 0060930217
ISBN 13: 9780060930219
By: Thomas Pynchon

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About this book

The wild, macabre tale of the twentieth century and of two men -- one looking for something he has lost, the other with nothing much to lose -- and "V.," the unknown woman of the title.Pynchon's V. won the coveted William Faulkner Foundation's First Novel Award when it appeared in 1963, and was hailed by Atlantic Review as "one of the best works of the century".

Reader's Thoughts

Justin Evans

I've read four Pynchon books, and the only one I was healthy for was Lot 49, which barely counts. For Gravity's Rainbow I was not only violently ill, but also on a cross-country road trip with my also violently ill father and my long-suffering mother, who could do little more than look on while we fought over things like whether it was acceptable to order dessert. For Inherent Vice, I was recovering from having my wisdom teeth removed. And now for V, not only did I finish it with Hurricane Sandy knocking limbs from trees outside my windows, but I was at the depths of a comparatively mild cold. The lesson is that one shouldn't read Pynchon when doped out on legal drugs, because all I remember of GR is an octopus, and I don't recall much from IV, either. On the other hand, I remember nothing from 49 despite having read it twice, and I suspect that's because it just isn't that good. This whole trend worries me some, but the good news is I won't be forgetting V any time soon, because it's a flat out masterpiece and, I suspect, better than GR. 'V,' in ascending order of abstraction, is a person with a robot eye, is a Utopia that large numbers of people think actually exists, probably stands for 'vagina' as in the source to which a large number of people wish to return, is a way of symbolizing reflection, either with reference to the mirror stage or reflection theories of vulgar materialism ('culture is simply the reflection of economics'), and is the convergence of two strands of the plot. The two strands follow, respectively, Stencil, a paranoid obsessive, whose story should, according to the paranoid perspective, be perfectly coherent but is in fact an endless search for an indefinable x (V). The second follows a picaro (Profane the schlemihl) whose story, as with any good picaresque, should have no coherence whatsoever but is, in fact, a fairly good illustration of the twentieth century decadence ("falling away") that 'V' chronicles, and the despair that decadence can induce. Various characters have various ways of coping with this decadence: different religions, art, drunkenness/hedonism, dentistry, and so on, but none of them can hold a candle to the disasters that follow everybody, like colonialism, war, unemployment, deracination and general ennui. The human beings slowly giving way: a nose job here, a belly ring there, becoming more and more object and less and less subject, more and more merely what "is the case" and less and less that which cannot be said(there's much play with early Wittgenstein here), more and more cyborg, less and live alive. The two narrative strands converge in Malta; the guiding metaphor is siege (Malta, which was besieged by the Ottomans, French under Napoleon, and the Axis powers in World War II). The human being is under siege, and neither the paranoid truth seeker nor the schizoid schlemihl can cope. Those who can and do cope (e.g., Schoenmaker) are manifestly dehumanizing evil bastards. But the book's manic energy makes it much less depressing than this sounds, and after all, there's still wine, wo/men and song. Including song about Wittgenstein. Books of which 'V' weirdly reminded me: Vile Bodies (decadence); Siege of Krishnapur (siege & colonialism); Graham Greene & Javier Marias for the spy thriller aspects; Roth for the 'Jews in America' aspects; Rilke for the ambivalent drive to become pure matter. Many reviewers say this is a really hard book, but I think maybe they're over-reacting: once you know or work out that there are two narrative strands, one of which is 'present day' and one of which is historical narrative, you can make your way through this book pretty easily. Particularly if you eschew all the 'V moves through time' nonsense. V does not move through time. Stencil's paranoia connects a number of things that need not be connected, just as my paranoia has linked together many aspects of the novel. The difficult aspect of the novel is to read it not as another dull pomo pastiche, but as the late modern masterpiece it is, dealing with difficult psychological concepts and historical realities. You can only read this book with paranoia: the urge to connect and seek order. Maybe that's not such a bad thing.

Kevin Hinman

There is the street and there is the underground. There is order and chaos, history as linear, compartmentalized narrative, and history as closed loop. There is the animate and the inanimate, the past and the future, the sacred and Benny Profane, schlemiel.Is V. a vivisection, a ripping apart, or a joining, two hands clasped, at an angle, rushing toward the Mediterranean sea? Is V. one arrow, or two, and which way does it point, and what is at its end? Dig deep enough and flesh becomes cogs, rumor becomes fact, and surface becomes mask.And despite all the spies and conspiracies, real and imagined, the most baffling part of Thomas Pynchon's debut is its flawless construction. Pynchon weaves a world so intricate, and dense, and surefooted, (never betraying V.'s status as a "first novel," with the bumps and hiccups a reader of literature would expect in any first work of fiction, let alone one as grandiose as V.), that the final result feels like an accumulation of a life-time of work. That his prose would only become more complex, his stories richer, his mystique greater, as he carved out a style purely Pynchonian, is the mark of a true literary genius, one that tears through Western literature once in a generation. As Finnegans Wake begins (with its vaginal typographical arrangement) so is Pynchon's mythos birthed, a mythos of symbols, and paranoia, and memorably eccentric characters, a furthering of the modernist movement, toward meaning, the route to which is never a straight line.

Ian Paganus

How Hard Can It Possibly Be?"V" isn't so much a difficult novel to read - it is after all just words, most of which are familiar - as one in which it is sometimes hard to understand what is going on and why. What does it mean? Does it have to mean anything? How does it all connect?Ironically, if not intentionally, the inability to determine what and why, as well as who, is part of its design. Pynchon mightn't want to answer all the questions he or life asks.However, that doesn't mean there isn't a lot of food for thought in the novel.Pynchon actually tells us a lot all of the time. Like "Ulysses", there are lots of hints and clues and allusions, and it's easy to miss them, if you're not paying attention to the flow of the novel and taking it all in. It's definitely a work that benefits from multiple readings.Characters Both Sacred and Profane"V" starts with one of two protagonists, the schlemiel Benny Profane, on Christmas Eve, 1955. On the anniversary of the sacred day upon which a Virgin, Mary, gave birth to Christ (and thus started what would become Christianity, both Catholic and Protestant), Profane is wearing black levis, a suede jacket, sneakers and a big cowboy hat, a sort of bohemian uniform at the time.He drops into the Sailors' Arms, which welcomes sailors from the tempestuous sea onto solid ground. For them, it's a dream come true, where the barmaids "all love to screw" and "remind you that every day is Christmas Eve".This tavern is a haven and safe harbour. The big-breasted women here provide comfort and succour to men, something we can easily get used to and take for granted.A Form Guide to StencilSixty pages later, Pynchon introduces us to the second protagonist, Herbert Stencil, a man who refers to himself in the third person, which allows him to create a repertoire of bad faith or inauthentic identities (or Sartrean "impersonations"). He has no one solid persona, but somehow the ability to think of himself as and be not just the third person, but a first, a second, a fourth and a fifth permits him to function reasonably adequately (if not always normally) for a male, and so the multiple personalities "keep Stencil in his place".When we meet him, however, his "place" is not static, it's dynamic. He is on a single-minded quest to find evidence of a woman named V. who he believes once knew his deceased father:"As spread thighs are to the libertine, flights of migratory birds to the ornithologist, the working part of his tool bit to the production machinist, so was the letter V to young Stencil. "He would dream perhaps once a week that it had all been a dream, and that now he’d awakened to discover the pursuit of V. was merely a scholarly quest after all, an adventure of the mind, in the tradition of The Golden Bough or The White Goddess."With these V-shaped analogies and the allusion to these non-fiction works (is "V." itself just such a scholarly quest?), Pynchon gives us some insights into the myth and mystery and significance of "V".The next paragraph gives us even more clues as to the nature of the pursuit or quest in general:"But soon enough he’d wake up the second, real time, to make again the tiresome discovery that it hadn’t really ever stopped being the same simple-minded, literal pursuit; V. ambiguously a beast of venery, chased like the hart, hind or hare, chased like an obsolete, or bizarre, or forbidden form of sexual delight. "And clownish Stencil capering along behind her, bells ajingle, waving a wooden, toy oxgoad. For no one’s amusement but his own."In Pynchon's next novel, "The Crying of Lot 49", a woman, Oedipa Maas, would be the subject in and of the quest. She would be the one doing the detective work. Here, a male is the subject and a woman is the object of the quest or pursuit.While both Oedipa and Stencil take their quests seriously, they meet with mixed success (perhaps a hallmark of a post-modern fiction). However, Pynchon seems to venerate Oedipa more highly. For all his earnestness, profundity and third person pretension, Stencil is a clown or a fool to match Profane's picaresque schlemiel."A Beast of Venery"We all know the word "venereal", but how often do we see its root, "venery" (which means sexual indulgence or the pursuit of or hunt for sexual activity)?The quest for man, if not necessarily for Stencil, is a quest for sexual pleasure, for sexual delight, for the sexual conquest of woman.Stencil is looking for one woman. However, because she is of his father's generation and vintage, you have to ask whether in reality he is trying (potentially on behalf of all men) to understand the mystery of sexual attraction, the mystery of womanhood and the place of women in society and, if only from a male perspective, the role of woman in a man's life. The Birth of VenusFrom an etymological perspective, the word "venery" derives from the Latin "veneris", which in turn derives from the Roman god of love and sex, Venus, who in turn was modelled on the Greek god, Aphrodite.The connotation of pursuit is thought to come from the resemblance of the word to the Latin "venari", which means to hunt.Not coincidentally, the Botticelli painting "The Birth of Venus" features in the novel.According to Robert Graves, Venus was also adapted from the pagan sea-goddess, Marian, who was often disguised as a merry-maid or mermaid. Suffice it to say, this Venus rose from the sea, hence the shell in the painting.If we go back further in time, we meet another goddess Astarte, whom the Egyptians worshipped as a goddess of war and tenacity, while the Semites worshipped her as a goddess of love and fertility. The Greeks would later adapt Astarte as the basis of Aphrodite (on the way to the Latin Venus). It is also linked to the goddesses and names Astoreth, Ishtar and Esther.Esther is the name of a character in the novel, (partly Jewish, she gets a nose job in an attempt by her plastic surgeon who wishes to make her look more Irish), while a model of Astarte is the figurehead of the xebec or sailing ship upon which Stencil's father Sidney died in the Mediterranean off Malta in 1919. In a way, Sidney's death might be a return to the embrace of Venus (after all, she was a V) and the great unknown of the ocean?Opposing ProtagonistsProfane and Stencil inevitably meet each other over the course of the novel and collaborate in Stencil's quest as it moves from Manhattan to Malta.They approach life and womanhood in contrasting ways.Here's a summary of Profane:Aimless, directionless, concerned with the present, existential, free-style, random, improvisatory, profane, superficial, more interested in the surface, physical, decadent, irrational.And Stencil:Motivated, purposeful, concerned with the past, in pursuit of understanding and meaning, structured, organised, profound, more interested in depth, metaphysical, civilised, rational.Despite their differences, they join together in Stencil's quest. What they share, obviously, is their manhood, the fact that they are men in a patriarchal society. Whatever their differences as men, they are on the inside, whereas women, in contrast, are on the outside, subjugated, unable to exercise political power or social influence, whatever other means of persuasion they might have at their disposal."Not Who, But What"Stencil's quest starts when he inherits a journal in which his father wrote the following cryptic note:"There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she. God grant that I may never be called upon to write the answer, either here or in any official report."There is a suggestion that Young Stencil is trying to find his own identity in V. He was raised motherless, having been born in 1901, which we are also told was the year "Victoria" died.Stencil, speaking in the third person, says:"You'll ask next if he believes her to be his mother. The question is ridiculous."But does it mean the answer is ridiculous? Does it mean we shouldn't ask the question? Are Stencil and Pynchon simply steering us away from the obvious or the possible? Is Pynchon suggesting that fiction (at least post-modern fiction) need not be obliged to offer up answers, that not every quest leads to its Holy Grail?I don't think I'm giving anything away when I say that there's not just one V, but potentially many. Or at least, Young Stencil finds clues as to the existence of many candidates.Does it make any difference though? Does it matter who this particular woman, this V., is? Does the identity of any individual V. matter, when it is the "what", the abstraction of woman that Stencil might be seeking? Is he, like us, simply trying to understand womanhood in all of its complexity? Animation and AgitationWhatever the answer, Stencil's quest animates and energises him. Beforehand, he had been inanimate:"His random movements before the war had given way to a great single movement from inertness to - if not vitality, then at least activity. Work, the chase...it was V. he hunted..."Finding her: what then? Only that what love there was to Stencil had become directed entirely inward, toward this acquired sense of animateness...to sustain it he had to hunt V.; but if he should find her, where else would there be to go but back into half-consciousness? He tried not to think, therefore, about any end to the search. Approach and avoid."Sidney, on the other hand, was a spy and interrogator for the British Foreign Office whose function was to perpetuate the British Empire. He regarded V. as a threat to order. He viewed her as an agent of chaos who, in her different manifestations, always arrived at a time when the world was in a state of siege. She had an unerring ability to appear when the patriarchal world of Western Imperialism was under threat, whether by civil war, rebellion or revolution.In a way, V. represents an undivided, less phallocentrically structured world that unites the stability of land and the fluidity of the ocean, as well as Europe and Asia, West and East, Woman and Man.At a more generalised level, V might represent the relationship between the Animate and the Inanimate, between Life and Death, between Eros and Thanatos.The Woman QuestionIt's interesting that neither Stencil really wants to find a definitive answer to their particular woman question. They are males, and they can't see beyond an era during which men are firmly ensconced in the saddle of power and influence.There is no preparedness to share power or to improve relationships between the sexes.The nature of womanhood is therefore a question that remains unsolved at the end of the novel. Women remain a mystery to men, perhaps because they (men) don't try hard enough or don't really want to understand. They are unable to change their own perspective, so that they might listen and learn. They are content to live with the allure of mystery.In a way, what hope would there be for relationships if all of the mystery was obliterated?As Profane says towards the end of the novel:"Offhand I'd say I haven't learned a goddamn thing."In a way, the unresolved concerns of the novel, from a male point of view, reflect Freud's plight:"The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is 'What does a woman want?"What is to be Done?Both protagonists are selfish in their own masculine way. Profane seems to be oblivious to the issue of what women might want. Young Stencil is ambivalent. However, at least Pynchon is posing a question, which I hope he did not view as ridiculous.Ultimately, while it's arguable that "V" is a pro-feminist novel, I think Pynchon's view was that, as at the time of writing in 1963, there was no solution to the relationship question in view. There was, quite simply, more to be done. Perhaps the underlying truth is that, unless and until man understands the place of woman in the world, he will never understand his place next to woman.Some perspective and hope might come from McClintic Sphere, the jazz musician in the novel. His counsel, almost zen or beat, is to "keep cool, but care." Don't worry too hard about it, just do it. But try to do it with love, not just lust and desire.Of course, the Women's Liberation Movement was only then starting to gather force. However, for all the good it has achieved since then, I think there still remains much to be done.Maybe at the level of couples it can be done, if we keep cool, but care.VERSE:Esther Got a Nose JobAfter years of childhood misery,Red-headed Esther got a nose job.One day the doctor removed her humpAnd returned it to her in a bottle.He thought it was such a great success,He gave her another hump for free.Pig's StoryTask force offGibraltarMoving forwardEn route To MaltaOn tar-colouredMediterraneanWaters underStars bloomingFat and sultry.The sort of nightWhen there's noTorpedoesOn the radarAnd Pig tellsUs all a storyAbout how he was Never caughtBehind the green doorThe night DoloresHeld an orgy.Nothing if Not ProfaneThey met mid-functionAt the Rusty Spoon.Although she's nowhereNear his age or size,He dreamed that he mightFind himself one nightAt the conjunctionOf her inner thighs.Voila, Vera Meroving![After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]Twin tendrils of sunlightIlluminated a crimson stainIn the courtyard of the Baroque plantation villa.A window swung openOn this fantastic dayTo reveal a striking woman In her forties, and otherwise, Barely clad, in a negligee,The hues of which werePeacock greens and blues,The fabric transparent,But not especially obscene.One Kurt Mondaugen,A crouching tiger, hid behindWrought iron curlicues, Astonished by his desireTo see and not be seen.If he waited long enough,A movement of the sun,This woman or the breeze,It might reveal to him,A voyeur, yes, it might rewardHis impatient gaze, his stare,With a glimpse of nipple,Her navel or some pubic hair.For Want of Godolphin[After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]Vera wanted GodolphinFor reasons he Could only guess.Her desire arose Out of nostalgia For the sensuous,Her appetiteKnew nothing at allOf nerves or heat,Or flesh or sweat,Or last night’s caress,But was instead beholden Entirely to barren,Touchless memory. Schoenmaker Offers to Make Esther Beautiful[After and Mostly in the Words of Pynchon]You are beautiful,Perhaps, not as you are,But as I see you.I, my love, yours truly,Want to give youSomething that Is truly yours.I can bring outThe beautiful girlInside you, latent,The idea of Esther,As I have done alreadyWith your face and nose.Do you think me so shallowThat I would only Love your body?Don’t you want meTo love your soul,The true you?Well, what is the soul?It is the idea of the body,The abstraction behindThe reality, the perfect EstherBehind the imperfect one Here in bone and tissue.Just an hour of timeIn my plastic surgery.I could bring your soulOutside, to the surface.I could make youPerfect, radiant,UnutterablyBeautiful and Platonically ideal.Then I could love youUnconditionally,Truly, madly, deeply, dearly.

Ian Vance

These days I find the task of reviewing a "difficult" Capital-L lit book rather daunting. In my 20's I might have popped off with some smarmy hyper-referential, multi-clause/multi-syllabic para-block, like some of my amazon reviews from ye olde days; no more. I usually find my time better served in reading thoughtful reviews by thoughtful reviewers here on goodreads, or in focusing my writing time on my own fiction (probably resulting from the specter of old age; not enough time / too many words; but what am I doing, then, browsing aimlessly some afternoons? please, the goad:) -- --all that wankery aside, this 'review' will be exactly that: a review of some of the passages I marked down as exceptional or memorable from Pynchon's V., a book I will never again read in full (too many tedious sections) but certainly deserving a periodic survey across its dozens of brilliant points.My favorite sections include the descriptions of the priest converting the rats of NYC sewers (assigning them the role of the meek; engaging in a torturous Catholic-guilt ridden affair with one; arguing fruitlessly with a rascally Marxist vermin); and the horrific sections concerning Imperialist malaise in Africa. The callback to "Under the Rose" (from Slow Learner) with altered scenes / POV is sort of cool, if suffering from the original stories' same guidebook-regurgitation.The quotes below are from the original hardback edition, acquired through interlibrary loan and read in the beginning of 2013. Apologies for any misspellings or transcribing mistakes. ---For that moment at least they seemed to give up external plans, theories and codes, even the inescapable romantic curiosity about one another, to indulge in being simply and purely young, to share that sense of the world’s affliction, that outgoing sorrow at the spectacle of Our Human Condition which anyone this age regards as reward or gratuity for having survived adolescence. For them the music was sweet and painful, the strolling chains of tourists like a Dance of Death. They stood on the curb, gazing at one another, jostled against by hawkers and sightseers, lost as much perhaps in that bond of youth as in the depths of the eyes each contemplated. (p. 201)That night, April 15, David Ben-Gurion warned his country in an Independence Day speech that Egypt planned to slaughter Israel. A Mideast Crisis had been growing since winter. April 19, a cease-fire between two countries went into effect. Grace Kelly married Prince Rainier III of Monoco the same day. The spring thus wore on, large currents and small eddies alike resulting in headlines. People read what news they wanted to and each accordingly built his own rathouse of history’s rags and straws. In the city of New York alone there were at a rough estimate five million different rathouses.So much for Art. What of Thought? The Crew had developed a kind of shorthand whereby they could set forth any visions that might come their way. Conversations at the Spoon had become little more than proper nouns, literary allusions, critical or philosophical terms linked in certain ways. Depending on how you arranged the building blocks at your disposal, you were smart or stupid. Depending on how others reacted they were In or Out. The number of blocks, however, was finite. “Mathematically, boy,” he told himself, “if nobody else original comes along, they’re bound to run out of arrangements someday. What then?” What indeed. This sort of arranging and rearranging was Decadence, but the exhaustion of all possible permutations and combinations was death. It scared Eigenvalue, sometimes. He would go in back and look at the set of dentures. Teeth and metals endure. (p. 297)O Malta of the Knights of St. John! History’s serpent is one; what matter where on her body we lie. Here in this wretched tunnel we are the Knights and the Giaours; we are L’Isle-Adam and his ermine arm, and his maniple on a field of blue sea and gold sun, we are M. Parisot, lonely in his wind-haunted grave high above the Harbour; battling on the ramparts during the Great Siege—both! My Grandmaster, both: death and life, ermine and old cloth, noble and common, in feast and combat and mouring we are Malta, one, pure and a motley of races at once; no time has passed since we lived in caves, grappled with fish at reedy shores, buried our dead with a song, with red-ochre and pulled up or dolmens, temples and menhirs and standing stones to the glory of some indeterminate god or gods, rose toward the light in andanti of singing, lived our lives through circling centuries of rape, looting, invasion, still one; one in the dark ravines, one in this God-favoured plot of sweet Mediterranean earth, one in whatever temple or sewer or catacomb’s darkness is ours, by fate or historical writings or still by the will of God.…The dog days have ended, the maijstral has ceased to blow. Soon the other wind called the gregale will bring the gentle rains to solemnize the sowing of our red wheat. Myself: what am I if not a wind, my very name a hissing of queer zephyrs through the carob trees? I stand in time between the two winds, my will no more than a puff of air. But air too are the clever, cynical arguments of Dnubietna. His views on marriage—even Maratt’s marriage—blow by my poor flapping ears unnotices. For Elena—tonight! O Elena Xemxi: small as the she-goat, sweet your milk and your love-cry. Dark-eyed as the space between stars over Ghaudex where we have gazed so often in our childish summers. Tonight will I go to your little house Vittoriosa, and before your black eyes break open this small pod of a heart and offer in communion the St.-John’s-bread I have cherished… (p. 310)For a matter of months, little more than “impressions.” And was it not Valletta? During the raids everything civilian and with a soul was underground. Others were too busy to “observe.” The city was left to itself; except for stragglers like Fausto, who felt nothing more than an unvoiced affinity and were enough like the city not to change the truth of the “imressions’ by the act of receiving them. A city uninhabited is different. Different from what a ‘normal’ observer, struggling in the dark—the occasional dark—would see. It is a universal sin among the false-animate or unimaginative to refuse to let well enough alone. Their compulsion to gather together, their pathological fear of loneliness extends on past the threshold of sleep; so that when they turn the corner, as we all must, as we all have done and do—some more often than others—to find ourselves on the street… You know the street I mean, child. The street of the 20th Century, at whose far end or turning—we hope—is some sense of home or safety. But no guarantees. A street we are put at the wrong end of, for reasons best known to the agents who put us there. If there are agents. But a street we must walk. It is the acid test. To populate, or not to populate. Ghosts, monsters, criminals, deviates represent melodrama and weakness. The only horror about them is the dreamer’s own horror of isolation. But the desert, or a row of false shop fronts; a slag pile, a forge where the fires are banked, these and the street and the dreamer, only an inconsequential shadow himself in the landscape, partaking of the soullessness of these other masses and shadows; this is 20th century nightmare. (p 323)“Nothing surprises me,” answered Porcepic. “If history were cyclical, we’d now be in a decadence, would we not, and your projected Revolution only another symptom of it.” “A decadence is a falling away,” said Kholsky. “We rise.” “A decadence,” Itague put in, “is a falling-away from what is human, and the further we fall the less human we become. Because we are less human, we foist off the humanity we have lost on inanimate objects and abstract theories.” … “Your beliefs are non-human,” he said. “You talk of people as if they were point-clusters or curves on a graph.” “So they are,” mused Kholsky, dreamy-eyed. “I, Satin, Porcepic may fall by the wayside. No matter. The Socialist Awareness grows, the tide is irrestible and irreversible. It is a bleak world we live in, M. Itague; atoms collide, brain cells fatigue, economies collapse and others rise to succeed them, all in accord with the basic rhythms of History. Perhaps she is a woman; women are a mystery to me. But her ways are at least measurable.” “Rhythm,” snorted Itague, “as if you listed to the jitterings and squeaks of a metaphysical bedspring.” (p. 405)…This is a curious country, populated only by a breed called “tourists.” Its landscape is one of inanimate monuments and buildings; near-inanimate barmen, taxi-drivers, bellhops, guides: there to do any bidding, to various degrees of efficiency, on receipt of the recommended baksheesh, pourboire, mancia, tip. More than this it is two-dimensional, as is the Street, as are the pages and maps of those little red handbooks. As long as the Cook’s, Travellers’ Clubs and banks are open, the Distribution of Time section followed scrupulously, the plumbing at the hotel in order… the tourist may wander anywhere in this coordinate system without fear. War never becomes more serious than a scuffle with a pickpocket, … depression and prosperity are reflected only in the rate of exchange; politics are of course never discussed with the native populations. Tourism this is supranational, like the Catholic Church, and perhaps the most absolute communion we know on earth: for be its members American, German, Italian, whatever, the Tour Eiffel, Pyramids, and Campanile all evoke identical responses from them; their Bible is clearly written and does not admit of private interpretation; they share the same landscapes, suffer the same inconveniences; live by the same pellucid time-scale. They are the Street’s own. (p. 408)Here were the borders of this city’s Disruptable Quarter; Stincle looked around with much curiosity. It was all the same. What a warped idea of cities one got in this occupation……Massive public buildings with characterless facades; networks of streets from which the civilian populace seems mysteriously absent. An aseptic administrative world, surrounded by an outlying vandal-country of twisting lanes, houses of prostitution, taverns; ill-lit except for rendezvous points, which stand out like sequins on an old and misused ball-gown.Strada Stretta; Strait Street. A passage meant, one felt, to be choked with mobs. Such was nearly the case: early evening had brought to it sailors ashore from HMS Egmont and smaller men-o-war; seamen from Greek, Italian and North African merchantmen; and a supporting case of shoeshine boys, pimps, hawkers of trinkets, confections, dirty pictures. Such were the topological deformities of this street that one seemed to walk through a succession of music-hall stages, each demarcated by the curve or slope, each with a different set and acting company but all for the same low entertainment. Stencil, old soft-show artist, felt quite at home. (p. 468)He indeed was visited by dreams in which he had shrunk to submicroscopic size and entered a brain, strolling in through some forehead’s pore and into the cul-de-sac of a sweat gland. Struggling out of a jungle of capillaries there he would finally reach bone; down then through the skull, dura mater, arachnoid, pia mater to the fissure-flooded sea of cerebrospinal fluid. And there he would float before final assault on the gray hemispheres: the soul. (p 471)They worked their way thus round Marsamuscetto in near-darkness. Reeds whistled in the fens. Behind them the illuminated city seemed tilted toward them, like some display case in a poor souvenir shop. And how quiet was Malta’s night. Approaching or leaving other capitals one always caught the sense of a great pulse or plexus whose energy reached one by induction; broadcasting its presence over whatever arête or sea’s curve might be hiding it. But Vallette seemed serene in her own past, in the Mediterranean womb, in something so insulating that Zeus himself might once have quarantined her and her island for an old sin or an older pestence. So at peace was Valletta that with the least distance she would deteriorate to mere spectacle. She ceased to exist as anything quick or pulsed, and was assumed again into the textual stillness of her own history. (p 474)


Is it worth it to commit to a book or movie through to the end, even if you're not enjoying yourself during the journey? I once had an opinion that if I paid for something, I'd sit through it - no matter how mind numbing it was. After all it could get better, right? There might be something I'm not seeing, right?I was handed this book by a coworker who had tried multiple times to get into it, but couldn't. So I gave it a try. Pynchon's "stream of conscious" writing style, I have determined is not *my* favorite, and after several attempts I have given this book a pass. It's not for everyone, and requires a lot of concentration to get through, much less makes sense of the naming conventions for his characters and other abstract qualities of the work. Obviously, some of you love it, so it can't be all bad, but it's definitely not for me, and I no longer have the time or patience to sit something out hoping it will get better. You either win me over immediately, or lose me for good, and I'm afraid this book (and consequently the author) has lost me.

Ivan Ivic

Decided to give up.. Pynchon is simply too smart for me, it seems :D Not to mention, too random.. Even for me! And I adore randomness, but this is way too much. Dude is nuts, no other way to put it. No way can a sane (or drug free) person understand half of what the author is saying, and still have a basic grip on the plot's direction.. Honestly, I can go on and on about characters, their sudden appearance and even more sudden disappearance, utterly boring setting, plot that runs like a headless chicken on steroids, insane word play, obscure references, shitty poetry etc etc, but I'll stop right here. After all, it wouldn't be fair to criticize it too much when you didn't even bother to stick with it to a bitter end, eh? I admit, I'm morally bankrupt in this case, but what the heck, I didn't like it, and there is no other way around it.I dunno.. Maybe I'll give it another shot sometime.. Once I'm locked safely in a mental asylum, for instance.


V. is like some weird, half dreamed dispatch from a mind that is hermetically sealed off from the world. It's a book that seems to revolve more around a specific set of images and motifs, clocks, yo-yo's inanimate objects, Malta, espionage, etc. than around a set of characters, though the characters are often compelling and weirdly poetic in their own ways. It's hard to believe that this book is almost 50 years old. The way it tries to tie together so many odd, all but forgotten historical threads and to make you puzzle over them feels incredibly ahead of its time. Which probably goes to show just how widely influential Pynchon actually is. I feel like you could actually move into this book and drown in it.


a story split in two, converging to a sharp, crisp point. one story, that of a group of go-nowheres, is fun and light, and probably a more accurate and unforgiving portrait of the beats than is present in their own work. the other alternating half are Stencil's tales of potentialities and impressions concerning espionage in various exotic locales earlier in the century, all tied around the enigma of the entity V.

Jack Waters

Mr. Reclusive himself may as well be V., the unfound signified (or maybe signifier? Dualities!) causing countless quests to end without satiation. Or is the quest the destination? The questination perhaps? Is V. even real? Or can V. just be extracted in anything upon analysis? Perhaps the overarching answer is found somewhere deep within the partridge droppings in Slab's pear-tree. I'd explain, but you'd be better off reading it yourself.Pynchon's sentences are profound, funny, highly concentrated, and drenched in density. So the question is this: can you find the world through the word?


Friday in the A.M. while on the Trolley, a little before nine, before I would be delivering packages all day downtown, I noticed a woman doing the New York Times Cross Word Puzzle, And I thought Thomas Pynchon does crossword puzzles in the time it takes him to brush his teeth, later I was going to pick up “Against The Day” between deliveries, so Pynchon was one my mind. His vocabulary and knowledge is so vast. Pynchon’s first novel is “V.” and it seems written by someone late in his writing career and not early. The novel one of my most beloved is about so many things and their connections and at times I was lost. In “V.” There are naval officers, and beatniks (one beatnik paints only cheese danishes) and a near endless cast of people some very strange. Sewer Alligators, Malta, poor bombed out Malta, World War Two pilots and plastic surgery, a chick that gets intimate with car’s gear stick, fear of open spaces and inanimate objects, are a small part of “ V.” Levi’s!

Aidan Watson-Morris

people will tell you that pynchon is inaccessible, the author of incomprehensible tomes detailing incoherent narratives written in opaque prose. these people are wrong. pynchon's novels are the ones you find yourself flipping through at night, desperate to find out what happens next, caught in pynchon's crazy, genius rhythm.people will tell you pynchon's characters are caricatures, vessels of puns & little else; these people are also wrong. pynchon's ability to write 360 degrees is unparalleled by even the author he learned from (gaddis) so, while it's easy to dismiss his characters as specks in a vast landscape, focus in on any & you'll find a real human being--take any one of them out of the landscape, & it leaves something to be desired.finally, people will tell you that pynchon is simply too smart for his own good, that his novels are merely soapboxes for him to spout off his thoughts on scientific progress & political happenings. these people have not read any pynchon, have instead sparknoted gravity's rainbow. they may be safely ignored.why do people have these misconceptions? i think it's largely because of pynchon's lack of self restraint, which some love & some hate. pynchon will take a serious scene & have characters burst into song, parodying whatever forgotten hit was popular in the b.c. era. his language will intensify in a passionate moment of overwhelming beauty. floating scenes will be connected gradually over the course of a fast paced, densely plotted novel that may seem completely unrelated (& some are never connected, illustrating such&such). &c. &c. but that's part of what makes pynchon great. his isn't a pointless excess; it's demonstrative of his indignation at the disenfranchisement of marginalized peoples, a sort of 'fuck you' to the literary canon he now belongs to. & like i said before, he writes 360 degrees, because he can. he has the ability to, is really that skilled. no one else writes like him. when you as a reader engage the text in any meaningful way, his panoramic writing is something more than immersive, almost enlightening.which is not to say that his narrative lacks elsewhere. while the craziness of the world as he sees it unfolds, there is a genuine humanity to each & every character, however sparsely illustrated. his prose is astonishing, yet enjoyable. the things he has to say are never made in a way that is didactic or preachy, but with a certain mixture of curiosity, compassion & humor. he's an opinionated genius, but he's not interested in oversimplifying to make his point, & he's more interested in analysis then thesis. (that being said, like i mentioned, he's not hesitant to give the middle finger to those who he has reached conclusions about.)v. epitomizes the analysis>thesis thing, despite the book being--in some ways--a 'fuck you' manifest. what i'm saying is, it's a good book.


I tried, lawd knows I tried.“It is something less than heavenTo be quoted Thesis 1.7Every time I make an advance;If the world is all that the case isThat’s a pretty discouraging basisOn which to pursueAny sort of romance.I’ve got a proposition for you;Logical, positive and brief.And at least it could serve as a kind of comic relief:[Refrain]Let P equal me,With my heart in command;Let Q equal youWith Tractatus in hand;And R could stand for a lifetime of love,Filled with music to fondle and purr to.We’ll define love as anything lovely you’d care to infer to.On the right, put that bright,Hypothetical case;On the left, our uncleft,Parenthetical chase.And that horseshoe there in the middleCould be lucky; we’ve nothing to lose,If in these parenthesesWe just mind our P’sAnd Q’s.If P [Mafia sang in reply] thinks of meAs a girl hard to make,Then Q wishes youWould go jump in the lake.For R is a meaningless concept,Having nothing to do with pleasure:I prefer the hard and tangible things I can measure.Man, you chase in the faceOf impossible odds;I’m a lass in the classOf unbossable broads.If you’ll promise no more sticky phrases,Half a mo while I kick off my shoes.There are birds, there are bees,And to hell with all your P’sAnd Q’s.And by the time Profane finished his beer, the blanket covered them both.”The songs have been my favorite part of reading Thomas Pynchon’s V. Really, I have enjoyed some of the reading, but as I’m typing this and feeling the urge to justify and push myself to like it, I realize that I’m just not that into it. I’m dropping it. My bookmark is on page 302-303 of the 1963 edition. I like his naming: Profane, Stencil, Mafia, The Sick Crew. I like the geography; I’ve dreamt of Florence and Cairo since the reading. But I’m not excited, I’m not finding why I should continue reading.Maybe it’s because I’ve been apart of a Sick Crew; I’m not in wonder about it.***********Finished reading the chapter “V. in love” with really the same reaction as the my last reading of the previous chapters. Things I really enjoyed: the number obsession in the first few paragraphs, the rich visual descriptions of Melanie’s clothing and costuming and her occupation with herself in them, the discussion of fetish and otherness and even tourism which I always find rather interesting as a person who travels. But I’m still just not that excited. I didn’t feel like I wanted to continue reading again although this was a much more interesting chapter to me than many of them. But fetish and otherness have been done much better by others, and having Melanie be a victim of sexual abuse that he then killed off at the end leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Still, pretty interesting to read.****Couldn't finish it, not interested.


There is an image that I will always remember from this book. The main gal, V, wears spike heels all the time, and lives in NYC, right? And so there's this scene where she is described as the kind of girl who can walk over sewer grates in these heels, and always lands square on the intersection of the beams in the grate, you know? So she never falls in or fucks up her shoes.

Mark Desrosiers

One of the worst novels I've ever read: bad prose, stupid idea of "humor", pointless fog and symbolism everywhere. Yeah, vaginas, we get it.

Stephanie A. Higa

Amazing, incredible book. Amazing, incredible writer. -1 for the two chapters I didn't like and for a few other sections that dragged on a bit longer than they could have. Otherwise: wow. Just wow. I still can't believe Thomas Pynchon wrote this when he was 26 or that this is his first novel. Off the charts imagination plus really exciting language. Pynchon's sentences are sometimes convoluted beyond belief, which is why he is rather difficult to read (I say "rather" because I've had much more trouble with other books) but the word choice is so unique that it kept me reading even when I was lost with or bored by the story. But: the story is mostly great, full of great adventures like traveling, spying, stealing, cheating, loving, drinking, cross-dressing, and rollicking (my personal favorite).This great adventure story is, like The Crying of Lot 49 (also good but V. is better), infused with great ideas. I probably missed half the great ideas, but the ones I did get really resonated with me. The study of the relationship between inanimate objects and animate beings struck me because I've thought about that a lot since the beginning of time, although not in such an organized or profound way.Other things I liked:* Pynchon deemphasizes coincidence even though this story seems to rely largely on crossing paths.* There is a line about mosques making love.* The character development is much better than that of TCL49. Benny Profane is a cute character although I can't say why exactly. Eigenvalue and Rachel are cool. Stencil is...interesting.* Tons and tons of scientific metaphors in this book. Unlike literary metaphors, these all seemed refreshing to me (and impressive-- mention "nodes of Ranvier" and hear me squeal).* Most of the historical sections (oh, Stencil) made me go, "OK...right...." and then suddenly something spectacular would happen and once again I would find myself terribly, terribly humbled. Similar case with the entire novel itself: it gets really good in Chapter 13. The remainder is great too, but I love 13 most.Overall: V. makes me ashamed to call myself a writer. Ashamed, I tell you.EDIT: I think this book has temporarily impaired my ability to read. Also I can't stop thinking about it. Also I realized the 5-star system is flawed and that while this is somewhere between a 4 and a 5 it's actually closer to a 5.

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