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

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)


In keeping with Pynchon's penchant for songs, I wrote one as the review for this book (and perhaps Pynchon in general). As I do whenever I come across songs in his books, you'll have to make up a melody and sing it yourself:You don't come for the plot, cos its tied in a knot,you don't come to escape, cos your mind will get raped,[Refrain]:but you do........come for.........the fun!!!!There's a whole lotta fun, on-a every page,songs and insights, Tommy earns his wage![Refrain]:and your eyes........roll back........in your head!!!![Bridge]:So many themes, I just can't describe 'em,the letter V is just one, but the rest ain't hidin',so jump on in, you won't get ouuuuttt.....Oh you'll shake your face from side to side,as you give yourself... into the ride![Refrain]:no you won't........be able........to summarize!!!!

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.


Si leer 'La subasta del lote 49' es como prepararse la mochila con un bocadillo y una botellita de agua para pasar el día en el campo, la lectura de 'V.' supone sacar la caravana con lo que ello conlleva, es decir, preparar la tienda de campaña, comprar víveres y coger ropa suficiente porque vas a estar fuera una par de semanas, vivienda en plena naturaleza. Por esta regla de tres, el día que me decida a afrontar la lectura de uno de los libros de más de mil páginas de Pynchon, será como prepararte para un safari en Kenia o una aventura por el Amazonas. ¡Miedo me da!Querer hacer una reseña, no ya de 'V.' sino de cualquier libro de Pynchon, es una ardua tarea, que además supone contar algunas de las tramas, sorpresas y trampas que el bueno de Pynchon nos ha preparado. Porque la novela se compone de múltiples historias, unas más largas que otras, incluyendo cambios temporales y localizaciones, además de docenas de diferentes personajes. Hay varios de éstos más recurrentes que otros, como son Profane, un ex soldado de marina; Stencil, que tiene fijación por encontrar a V., alguien o algo que apareció entre los papeles de su padre, antiguo miembro de Asuntos Exteriores; o Rachel, que mantiene una extraña relación con Profane.Leer 'V.' es como adentrarse en Territorio Pynchon, donde todo está relacionado y no existen las casualidades. Al principio cuesta adaptarse al terreno, pero dándole un poco de tiempo, llegas a disfrutar del paisaje. Sin embargo, de vez en cuando es posible que te pierdas mientras exploras, pero no pasa nada, siempre terminas encontrando la salida, aunque a veces no sepas cómo y por lo tanto no te hayas enterado muy bien de dónde has estado (salido). Pero en cuanto terminas tu estancia en 'V.', te queda la sensación de haber pasado unos momentos bastante agradables e interesantes, y no te importaría repetir.Hay que leer a Pynchon, aunque algunas veces no lo pilles del todo, porque lo importante es dejarse llevar por sus ardides conspiratorios. ¿Recomendaría leerlo a todo el mundo? Ni mucho menos. Sobre todo porque no quiero estar pendiente de mis espaldas por si alguien me sacude con el libro en cuestión.


So, it took a great length of time to finish this book as I read it in two large blocks of time. I began in winter of 2011 and read the first 200 pages. I was engrossed by the Benny Profane plots and lost when it came to the Stencil chapters. My imagination was activated but at some point I burned out on it. I realize I was making it quite difficult for myself by trying to read it as I would read any book, which is to try to fully understand what is going on at every point, to know the precise meaning of every word, and keep track of every detail and character.. I started the book from scratch towards the end of 2012. The funny thing is, maybe just because of my previous exposure, the book started to make a lot more sense to me. You could say it started to take on an "Ominous logic". I realized that certain events clearly mirror each other. Some characters, in a rather Lynchian fashion, drop out of view and then seem to almost reappear as different character's later on in the book (did anyone else note a parallel between young Gadrulfi and Mondaugen?) and V. itself is represented in a pluralistic fashion as a number of places, people and/or things. Over time it felt as if my mind's eye dilated in the dark and then gradually became overwhelmed by the glare as it learned to see a whole new kind of light. The depth in which he strings together his discussion of animate vs. inanimate is clearly a crux of the book and it will leave me thinking of the world in new terms probably for all time to come. On one level it is a representation of chaos theory, on another the dehumanization of mechanized industry, on yet another the story of a "schlemiel's" obsession and act of forming the world around him to his own slanted philosophical ideas and expectations; making his theory into a constant self-fulfilling prophecy. The most interesting idea I got out of it is that as humans move closer to any idea of "perfection", that is, that they are more completely capable of acting perfectly according to a set of "rules" or ideals; as they are able to walk unfalteringly the path they see revealed in front of them and/or eliminate their physical imperfections, they become in a sense "less human" or more inanimate. If any being were completely perfect, it would always act in a precise way dependent on something akin to it's programming when in a particular Situation. God can then be viewed as.. an automaton. This also ties into Pynchon's apparent rejection of Platonism which he satirizes through the character of Schoenmaker and his act of "revealing the perfection of Esther's soul in physical form". It could also be tied into the dialectic within the book on the forces which cause all human history to play out.. Randomness and chance; moving bodies merely bashing into each other and spinning out; or is there some reason behind things? Do things play by a certain set of rules? Surreptitious rules which don't always even seem like rules. The Social Field Theory interacting with physics and government forces, the will and consensus of the people, and maybe some more mysterious forces? It would seem that he doesn't want us to perceive either of these as "the answer" but to consider the way in which all of these elements together Conspire to create The Situation which basically amounts to.. the way things are. Other things to note (it would be very difficult to account for everything which struck me in this book) would be Eigenvalue's perspective as an observer of "Post-modernism" and the criticisms of the Whole Sick Crew reflecting every depreciated thing one may be able to think to say about Pomo (when they run out of things to rearrange, nothing new will be created, this amounts to death or "information entropy"). Perhaps the first time I tried reading through the book I read it from a Benny Profane-esque perspective. I saw all of the random details just as random meaningless information that doesn't add up to much of anything. The second time I took it on as Stencil, poring over every bit of information as a kind of "clue", seeing connections everywhere and feeling enveloped in some grand Mystery. In the end, it's a fascinating book of ideas, revelations minor and major, and great entertainment value if you just accept the responsibility of using your imagination, and keeping your mind open to the multiplicity of meanings and implications.


This book won me over completely. Its unhinged prose captures the Twentieth Century in its entirety better than anything I have ever encountered - and it was written barely halfway through the century! Pynchon has a reputation for being difficult, and this book is certainly no exception, but if you lean back in your seat, trust him, and let him take the reins, you won't find it difficult at all. I find that you have to read Pynchon with a kind of soft focus, unclenching certain parts of your mind that you never realized were contracted. Don't get me wrong, the details of every minor character he brings into this twisted narrative are all brilliant, and each one of his multitudinous sentences is mind-blowingly immaculately composed, but the gestalt of the book is its own art, something that can only be appreciated in blurred impressions generated by the insanely precise prose. Some might be frustrated by the elusiveness of the titular woman/thing/concept and the book's narrative drive in general, but I think that Stencil himself puts it best when asked why he pursues V. so intently:"Why not?...His giving you any clear reason would mean he'd already found her. Why does one decide to pick up one girl in a bar over another. If one knew why, she would never be a problem. Why do wars start: if one knew why there would be eternal peace. So in this search the motive is part of the quarry.""Why not?" indeed.


At one point in V., one of Pynchon's characters is pontificating on his Beat Generation ennui, and decides that the best tact in life is to "Love with your mouth shut, help without breaking your ass or publicizing it; keep cool but care." Much of this novel seems to be about Pynchon's post-college struggle to find a way of living— some middle road between existential despair and the Romantic path of old. Both of the narratives involve groups of people struggling to find meaning against the backdrop of perilous moments in history. This struggle mainly manifests as endless bouts of drinking and fornicating, and ponderous pseudo-intellectual conversations about whether life is worth living.Whether you like or hate his style, you can't deny Pynchon is a great writer. His descriptions of places, and his embodiments of characters, are the work of a singular, almost preternaturally prodigal genius. But whether by intention or mistake, he has trouble organizing his plots, and often this book seems like a heavily embroidered set of short stories hanging off a pretty thin connective narrative. If you're just out of college and struggling with the big existential questions (what kind of life is worth living? is there Destiny, or is it all chance? does anything really matter?), and you're an above average-reader with some time on your hands, you'll enjoy this book. But if you're into your middle years, you might feel like Pynchon is just trying a little bit too hard.


I was utterly confused and I LOVED it. Of all the books that I've read, this was one of the select few that had me biting my fingernails on one hand, as I cradled its spine with my other. What had me so nervous was not the suspense in the plot, or a concern for the characters, but the thought, "Can he keep this up? Can he write 600 pages of prose that is so stupefyingly beautiful, so unctuous, so enveloping?" The answer is yes, that Pynchon's style continued to deliver on the promises made in the beginning of the book.The prose wasn't the only reason I was biting my nails, however. I also had to wonder how I could possibly put down the book and be myself again. I felt like my personality was stopped dead in its tracks by Pynchon's treatment of his two main characters: Benny Profane and Herb Stencil. One is a discharged sailor living in the Beat Generation; the other is an old adventurer looking for something that he doesn't quite understand. They don't have much to do with each other, and they seem to intersect only by chance, and neither is an antagonist or a protagonist. The author is neither unsympathetic or sympathetic; he simply coldly observes them, all the while dragging out a whirlwind of profane but enchanting detail.V., besides being a candidate for Great American Novel, is simply the best book related the Beat Generation, as Pynchon's detachment is preferable to Kerouac's proselytization; and he admits to there being a hidden, frustrating world that can't simply be seen directly from the Road. For that reason, his imagination is more refreshing than Kerouac's as well.It's a shame that Pynchon eventually grew so unfocused and insane; if he had been able to set aside some of the twists and turns of his later plots, he might have been able to leave some 500 pages of pure and (still unpolished) brilliance like V. again.

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?

Lane Wilkinson

EDIT: I give up again. 'V' is a travesty of juvenile puns, unconvincing dialogue, and (my own pet peeve) characters with impossibly trite names. Seriously, what gives? EDIT: I decided to try reading it again.have you ever had the feeling that an author is simply trying to bludgeon you over the head with abstruseness? have you ever read one of those books that all of the "serious readers" swear is an infallible masterpiece, despite its meat-fisted appropriation of the stylistic innovations of Eliot, Pound, Joyce, Woolf, et al.? If you haven't, then read 'V'. (seriously, though, 'V' is a great book. i just read it too soon after my Ezra Pound phase, and it sort of rang hollow and derivative. i'm sure i'll love it when i read it again in a few years.)

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.


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.


Nutshell: orthographic mystery spins out of control as narrative ponderously stencils over trifling profanities.Quite an achievement. Probably should’ve read this prior to reading Underworld, Dissident Gardens, or Bleeding Edge--all New York stories, working out of the same imaginary as Selby’s Last Exit to Brooklyn. The first chapter of V is the closest to Selby, and it’s almost unreadable. After that, it calms down and is readily digestible in large pieces.Ian Vance is correct that the marxist rat is awesome (123 ff.). First chapter regarding protagonist spy Stencil is very impressive, also--involving the perspectives of eight others into whose ambit the master spy moves. One of the best things that I’ve ever read, though, is the scene wherein one character gets a nose job (104-12), which is told with fine attention to detail of the clinical language of the physician, but also mixes in bizarre sexual commentary from the physician’s assistant during the procedure, with reference to the tools entering patient‘s face (she remains aware under local anesthetic!): “Stick it in…pull it out…stick it in…ooh that was good” (108)--and, eventually, the physician starts mingling German into his speech, like in Dr. Strangelove (“Now ve shorten das septum, ja” (111)), which kinda hammers home the nastiness of elective cosmetic surgeries. (Patient ends up screwing the doctor, incidentally.) Novel contains several great set pieces in the Stencil sections: intrigues in 1899 Florence, then 1922 Namibia (lotsa Germans excited about Mussolini, killing natives in preparation for WW2, apparently), then Paris 1913, then Malta during the second world war. Central, eponymous mystery is disclosed early: “His journals, his unofficial log of an agent’s career. Under ‘Florence, April, 1899’ is a sentence, young Stencil has memorized it: ‘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’” (49). The Florence 1899 episode is laid out later when Stencil is at therapy with his psychodontist, and involves a mission to:"a place called Vheissu, [...] on camel-back over a vast tundra, past the dolmens and temples of dead cities; finally to the banks of a broad river which never sees the sun, so thickly roofed is it with foliage. The river is traveled in long teak boats which are carved like dragons and paddled by brown men whose language is unknown to all but themselves. In eight days’ time there is a portage over a neck of treacherous swampland to a green lake, and across the lake rise the first foothills of the mountains which ring Vheissu. Native guides will only go a short distance into these mountains. Soon they will turn back, pointing out the way." (179). Revealed that the clouds, “they are Vheissu, its raiment, perhaps its skin,” but “beneath?” Answered: “I wondered about the soul of the place. If it had a soul. Because their music, poetry, laws and ceremonies come no closer. They are skin too” (181). Rather, “dreams are not, not closer to the waking world” in Vheissu, but “they do seem more real” (181-82) (cue baudrillardism). Easy then, at this early point of the novel that V. may well be Vheissu, a place rather than a person, a place similar to many others in the British Empire (180). That was my initial reading, considerably complicated as the text spun out.Nevertheless, same chapter describes a caper to steal a painting of Venus, enacted by one of the few survivors of elder Stencil’s Vheissu mission. So: V. as the Venus? Or is it Victoria Wren, who re-appears in this instantiation? No idea. Not sure I really want to know. Other chapters note a Vera, Viola, the city of Valletta, Veronica (a sewer rat, of all things), Vesuvius, the V-2. It’s a mess. More interesting: the novel is structured around the distinction animate/inanimate, and I suspect that a close neo-formalist reading will bear out the structuration. The binary shows up repeatedly, both expressly and implicitly:Pig Bodine: “in times of crisis he preferred to sit in as a voyeur” (9) (dude likes to hit on women with “What do you think of Sartre‘s thesis that we are all impersonating an identity?” (137));Profane’s desire to piss out the sun is rooted in the fact that “inanimate objects could do what they wanted. Not what they wanted because things do not want; only men. But things do what they do” (19-20);Profane’s search “for something too to make the fact of his own disassembly plausible as that of any machine” (35);Servile types are considered “as much a feature of the topography as the other automata” (69-70);Bongo-Shaftsbury as a “mechanical doll” (80-81);The physician’s favoring of “allograft: the introduction of inert substances into the living face” (102); physician is expressly in “alignment with the inanimate“ (103);Godolphin carps that he “was nearly killed in something that could not have been an accident, a caprice of the inanimate world” (207);Profane muses that “anybody who worked for inanimate money so he could buy more inanimate objects was out of his head. Inanimate money was to get animate warmth, dead fingernails in the living shoulderblades, quick cries against the pillow, tangled hair, lidded eyes, twisted loins” (230);“Community may have been the only solution possible against such an assertion of the Inanimate” (296);Regarding voyeurism: “At least he was to experience a for him rare Achphenomenon: the discovery that his voyeurism had been determined purely by events seen, and not by any deliberate choice, or pre-existing set of personal psychic needs” (301);Dude who paints only cheese danishes explains his “revolt against Catatonic Expressionism” as “The beauty is that it works like a machine yet is animate. The partridge eats pears off the tree, and his droppings in turn nourish the tree” (307);Profane understands what I mean: “In the eighteenth century it was often convenient to regard man as a clockwork automaton. In the nineteenth century, with Newtonian physics pretty well assimilated and a lot of work in thermodynamics going on, man was looked on more as a heat-engine, about 40-percent efficient. Now in the twentieth century, with nuclear and subatomic physics a going thing, man had become something which absorbs x-rays, gamma rays, and neutrons” (310). Profane feels a kinship with crash test dummies, especially one which is “the first inanimate schlemihl he’d ever encountered” (id.);Profane is of course dead wrong, as he himself is a schlemihl from page one of the novel, and admits that he is the opposite of the “master of the inanimate,” is rather a “schlemihl, that was hardly a man: somebody who lies back and takes it from objects, like any passive woman [!]” (314);Great bit wherein a series of accidents are catalogued as “the world started to run more and more afoul of the inanimate” (316);Maijstral’s confession (very well done, this) complains that he “Was meant only to live at the threshold of consciousness, only exist as a hardly animate lump of flesh, an automaton” (339) (much relevant in the confession). The confession advises that it “will limit the inevitable annotating to this request. Observe the predominance of human attributes applied to the inanimate”--which is a key instruction in the reading of this novel, asking the reader to turn back to page one and mark out each and every prosopopeia (I haven’t done this.);We find that the “Bad Priest” (another reiteration of V.) is disassembled (381-82) piece by inanimate piece, like the fable of the golden screw (34) and Profane’s desire to be disassembled, supra;And so on, proliferating to the end, including theatrical automata and a proto-fascist complaining about decadence in pre-WWI Paris, how “we foist off the humanity we have on inanimate objects and abstract theories” (450).We see, then, that the first appearance of V., supra, is marked out with passive verbs and relative pronouns, a dearth to be filled by something else (viz. readers): what is she, not who; what is behind or inside her. (stick it in…pull it out…oh that‘s good). V. is primarily something therefore that lacks grammatical animation. We know that animate/inanimate is grammatical in the novel because one character laments that “he had the Saxon habit of attaching diminutive endings to nouns, animate or inanimate” (246). Just to prove that all of those horrible Ayn Rand books that I’ve been reading aren’t a complete waste: one character is noted to be an aspiring novelist--“All her characters fell into disturbingly predictable racial alignment. The sympathetic--those godlike, inexhaustible sex athletes she used for heroes and heroines were all tall, strong, white though often robustly tanned, Anglo-Saxon, Teutonic, and/or Scandinavian” (132). Pretty good description of randian output and theory.Anyway, lotsa inventiveness, humor, great turns of phrase, good politics, &c. Some kinda analysis of tourism, perhaps placing it in dialectic with espionage or exploration or surveying, which show up repeatedly. Hard to say. Forms a nexus with the animate/inanimate stuff, late: “This is a curious country, populated only by a breed called ‘tourists.’ Its landscape is one inanimate monuments” &c. (454). A similar pre-occupation with surface/depths, as in Bleeding Edge. Much more going on here than my little review lets on. Recommended for those with some intention of pissing on the sun to put it out for good, readers who adhere to Heroic Love (i.e., screwing five or six times a night, every night, with a great many athletic, half-sadistic wrestling holds thrown in), and persons with a complex system of pressure transducers located in a marvelous vagina of polyethylene.


Between the extended novella The Crying of Lot 49 and the sprawling behemoth Gravity's Rainbow lies V, a book that's neither long nor particularly dense but still finds space for Pynchon's trademark historical digressions and lyrical flights of fancy. Pynchon's first novel is a thrilling mish-mash of Baedeker-Guide colonial intrigue, 1950s bohemia, and a hilarious set piece about alligators in the sewers of New York, all held together by an enigmatic meta-textual thread that is one of the more artful examples of what people mean when they talk about postmodern literature, assuming they mean anything at all. This is the Pynchon novel you should read first.


Reading Thomas Pynchon's first novel is like plunging head first into a room with very little light. As the novel progresses, Pynchon regulates that light sometimes letting the reader see very clearly, narratively speaking, and other times enveloping the reader into near darkness.The two main characters are discharged Naval officer Benny Profane the self-described "schlemiel" and Stencil, the hunter of the elusive woman/idea known only as V. Though not exact opposites, their destinies do not intersect until the last part of the book. Profane's story is the more traditional narrative of the two as he passively wanders into alligator hunting, bar brawls, and an enigmatic security job. Profane with his friends known as "The Whole Sick Crew" could be Pynchon's alter ego and could be also an amalgamation of Naval and literary figures.The breadth of Pynchon's encyclopedic knowledge comes through with the emergence of Stencil as he wanders through time and multiple identities taking up his father's mission to find V. V wanders time and space (presumably though- its never clear) showing up in 19th century British Egypt, as a rat in a New York City sewer, and (in a very difficult chapter) as a "bad preist" mangled by children in the ruins of World War II. Pynchon's strokes are most broad in sub-stories regarding a German colony in South Africa and later in another chapter surrounding an impaled ballerina that entrances V.The connections are not often clear but the indictments of colonialism and war ring true. V is a challenging must-read postwar American whirlwind that remains consistent in its aggressively cubist tone.

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