on 17 June 1999
A mechanical duck, a talking dog, trigonometry, flying along lay-lines, an ear that hears all, real history and total fantasy all rolled into one. Written in an unusual style of almost phonetic 18th Century English, with totally irregular capitalisation, this is far from a light read in more ways than one as it is also over 700 pages long. Follow the adventures of Mason and Dixon as they carve a line across America and into history. Pynchon has mixed real events, folk-lore, real and imaginary people into a novel that I will have to read again to fully appreciate. Very very funny at times, totally perplexing at others but always crying out for you to read just one more page before you put it down for the night. If you are looking for a book that you actually have to read, rather than just look at the words, then this could just be it.
on 17 December 2013
This meticulously researched and crafted epic is a unique mix of serious historical novel, "bromance", and a series of surreal Pythonesque sketches involving a talking dog, a mechanical duck and giant vegetables. It is full of laugh-out-loud moments, sweeping historical set-pieces and touching human interest. But it is a difficult read. Written in idiomatic 18th century style (the prose as well as the dialogue), full of verbose asides and often branching out into post-modernism and magical realism it can be very difficult to follow at times. The experience is similar to reading a difficult book in a foreign language which you speak well without being completely fluent. Here is some sample prose to illustrate what I mean...'In the Hold were hundreds of Lamb carcasses,- once a sure occasion for Resentment prolong'd, now accepted as part of a Day inflicted by Fate, ever darkening,- exil'd to which, he must, in ways unnam'd,-perhaps, this late, unable to include "simply,"-persist.'
In short I'm very glad I read it and I'm very glad I've finished it.
on 21 October 2003
You want great writing? Pynchon can write. Sometimes jaw-dropping images and ideas stop you in your tracks, and make you put the book down for a bit just to take it in.
At other times, the writing is deceptively simple. Just read the first line of this book. "Snow-Balls have flown their Arcs, starr'd the Sides of Outbuildings, as of Cousins..." With a few simple words we can hear the thump of snowballs on wood, we know that we are talking about a large family ("Cousins", not "Children"), the tense tells us we are probably at the darkening end of a winter day, and in describing buildings and kids as equal targets, we have a gentle wit.
So far, so what, maybe? Well, call me a ponce but in the reference to arcs, we have a reference back to Gravity's Rainbow, Pynchon's massive, crazy WWII novel loosely themed around the deadly parabola of the V2 rocket. In the reference to stars, we have a pointer in the direction of the theme to come in Mason & Dixon - astronomy and the cosmos, at the time of a shift in society's relationship to it. Mason and Dixon are brought together to carry out astronomical observations, and Mason uses the stars to navigate his line across America.
There you go, a couple of hundred words about the first line. You're in for a rich, astonishing read - just take your time.
on 29 December 2007
In the search for the mythical "Great American Novel", too many are guilty of forming their idea of what this should be before reading any of the contending texts. Hence, the likes of Don De Lillo, Saul Bellow, Philip Roth and John Updike are those most often mentioned in this context. The assumption is that the beast should deal with twentieth century material - the America of skyscrapers, mass immigration, tenement buildings and baseball.
However, what better way of getting to the soul of a country than an exploration of the initial conditions at that nation's birth? Thomas Pynchon obviously agreed and came up with a kaleidoscopic overview of America in the womb.
Over 700 pages of the most impressive prose imaginable, Pynchon takes us on a tour of eighteenth century America, with doses of South Africa, the UK and St. Helena thrown in. But this isn't just an academic exercise designed to create dazzling prose, this is a touching novel with larger than life characters and a big heart - a human novel that emphasizes decency, open-mindedness and human frailty.
on 7 April 2010
Not much to add to the other reviews - they are spot-on, this is a wonderful book.
But just one point for you to ponder: did anybody else imagine John Thaw and Kevin Whately as Mason and Dixon while reading this, or is it just me?
The sense of the the grumpy southerner and the chirpy Geordie is uncanny, right down to their speech patterns. I wonder if Pynchon is a "Morse" fan?
on 12 July 2004
I cannot add much to the long and detailed analyses of this book written by other reviewers. Suffice to say that, when I heard it discussed ( B.B.C radio programme, just after publication) by a mixed gathering of critics, one (whose name currently eludes me, but is an esteemed critic) reviewer referred to it as possibly the greatest book of the 20th. century.
It is the only book I have hurried out to buy as a hardback publication. I have also read it twice. Unlike "Gravity's Rainbow" (it left me bombed out after a few chapters), this is a big book that is quite an easy read.
on 30 August 2015
One of Pynchon's most accessible novels (once you get used to the brilliant pastiche of 18th century novel style and diction). Just as his protagonists are contracted to draw a straight line across the wilderness, Pynchon draws a random line across our rational delusions. If that sounds a bit pretentious, don't worry, the novel is just a great big shaggy dog story of random encounters and hilarious conversations. Forget about any plot development or meaning, just enjoy each chapter, each encounter, for itself. Read best in small bits, the ideal bedside book.
on 21 October 2003
This book will reward you enormously if you stick with it. It is a book for anyone who has ever lost anything or found something. It assumes a vast framework of reference, often very humourously, without intimidating the reader for the shallow grasp they might have on it, and it will leave you feeling more human than when you started it.
Before that it may confound and frustrate you, but it will reward you more than you might think possible.
on 10 February 2016
Great book by a brilliant writer. Top quality paperback dispatched quickly and safely. Thanks!
on 13 May 2014
I bought this, along with a whole bunch of other Pynchon works altogether at the same time for one especial and very particular reason. Having studied literature to some degree (Ha!) at university myself some several or so years back, to little avail, I had read one of his earlier efforts, ie, 'The Crying of Lot 49', and, though I was, to be perfectly honest, in a state of some mental perturbation in those days, being a frequent user of what are laughably called 'recreational' drugs and subject to quite crippling bouts of depression, during which suicidal actuation was not at all uncommon, having, along with my then 'partner', lost my rented home and thereafter had no recourse but to 'move in' with her unbearable parents, whereat the 'girl' announced, quite out of the blue, or should I say black, that she was, in true 'A Kind of Loving', 'Up the Junction', 'Alfie' fashion, not to mention that one by Jean Paul Sartre, pregnant, I must say I enjoyed it very much.
Thus, having some one or two years later noticed the present tome for sale shortly after it's initial publication in the Drabford branch of Waterstone's, where Rackham's used to be, I couldn't help but notice how, well, substantial, it was, that is to say, thick. So, a few years more further on down the line, when I required a bunch of good lumpy books for that aforementioned especial reason, I knew full well which author to pursue - the master of enigma, Mr T. Pynchon. And where else would one head in order to order a whole bunch of big lumpy books than global monstrosity Amazon (named either after the rainforest they're no doubt doing a good deal towards destroying or the tribe of mono-breasted female giants)? Delivery was, as usual, pretty swift, though the postie didn't look particularly impressed, and once returned to my lofty domicile (attic flat), I put them to immediate use. Without even removing their unnecessarily sturdy packaging I formed them into a solid stack beneath my skylight window, whereupon I could stand, quite safely, and spy upon the young lady across the way!