Customer Review

109 of 130 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Like climbing Everest without oxygen., 26 Aug. 2004
This review is from: Gravity's Rainbow (Paperback)
Looking at all the besotted reviews on this page makes me feel like a Philistine or irredeemably stupid, but I just cannot warm to Thomas Pynchon. I feel compelled to justify the 2-star rating by pointing out I'm not casting any aspersions on the quality of his work, just pointing out how much I did not enjoy reading it.
Gravity's Rainbow could perhaps be best described as Catch 22 meets Naked Lunch, as written by Saul Bellow. It shares a lot of the best qualities of those bright lights in American literature: it's wildly inventive, outrageously seamy, intelligently written and often wickedly funny.
Unfortunately, it also shares a lot of the flaws. It's hugely incoherent and the beautiful language meanders through mammoth sentences across a dozen ideas without ever really binding them together. You feel that if there is any sense to be had, it remains stuck in the author's head. This is in spite of the fact he seems to have poured his every wild thought onto the page as it occurred to him. It's beautifully written, but it's a mess. It's like someone gave you a box of extremely expensive chocolates but left them in the back seat of the car and they all melted together.
I had to wade through every page to the bitter end. In fact, I read half a dozen other novels in the meantime purely to provide myself with a break. It was like stopping for oxygen while climbing Mt Everest. Hey, it's nice to say you reached the top, but was it really worth the frostbite?
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 2 Jul 2009 20:54:04 BDT
S. Jones says:
this is so right, it really reminds me of Catch-22 which I read to the end, I'm only a short way through this but so considering giving up

Posted on 29 Jul 2009 00:32:17 BDT
lexo1941 says:
I'm not quite sure what to say, except your assessment of the virtues and flaws of the novels and writers you mention is way off.

For a start, Catch 22 is not "incoherent". It is extremely tightly plotted. The novel follows the ways in which Yossarian's potential escape routes are crossed off one by one, until in the end his only option is simply to run away. In that respect, it's as well-plotted as any Hollywood movie. Secondly, Pynchon's style is nothing like Burroughs's. Pynchon is writing a relatively conventional novel. Burroughs is throwing a bunch of oral "routines" down on paper and tying them together with not much more than force of will - which is not to say that Naked Lunch isn't a great book, just that Burroughs is doing something entirely unusual. Thirdly, Bellow's conservative, essayistic moralism is entirely unlike Pynchon's manic, paranoid, digressive style. It's not necessarily a bad thing, but it has nothing in common with Pynchon.

I'm not denying that it took me two years to read Gravity's Rainbow the first time round. I was simply unfamiliar with much of what Pynchon was talking about. (He does expect the reader to know quite a bit about modern science. The truth is that most people with undergraduate degrees in the humanities know next to nothing about science, but that's not Pynchon's fault.) The second time, however, it took me three weeks. It was on the second reading that I perceived that Gravity's Rainbow is an entirely coherent novel, and that it was only my initial ignorance that prevented me from realising it the first time around.

You don't have to like it. But you have no right to call it a "mess" just because you can't understand it.

In reply to an earlier post on 4 Feb 2011 13:45:11 GMT
Paul Z says:
I believe that the original reviewer has every "right to call it a "mess"" - you don't have to like that, but you should respect it as a perfectly valid opinion.

In reply to an earlier post on 10 Feb 2011 14:21:53 GMT
Bruce says:
But it's not a "mess" and it makes perfect sense to anybody with a reasonable attention span! I think a lot of these reviews show the decline in reading ability of the general public, rather than anything about Pynchon's brilliant creation!

In reply to an earlier post on 16 Dec 2011 15:25:46 GMT
Simon says:
I agree with Paul - the original reviewer has every right to call it a mess. Stringing the plot together and understanding all of the metaphores is quite a task and clearly, some people aren't going to enjoy the way the book is written. For me, it's amazing, and some people might agree with that, but it's good that people see a balance in the reviews as that will help them decide for themselves. On one level, it certainly is a mess, on another it's certainly not.

Posted on 23 Jul 2012 11:40:08 BDT
Taranis says:
Just a couple of points for the sake of clear thinking and logic. And I don't believe I'm being pedantic here.

In terms of rational argument, opinions are neither valid or invalid, let alone 'perfectly valid'. It is arguments that are valid or invalid. An opinion can be reasonable, well-informed or rational etc but not valid. Someone might hold the opinion that the earth is flat or that the universe is only 5000 years old but it doesn't make it valid. Still, they do have a perfect right to that opinion and lexo 1941 might have worded it differently, for instance, by just saying he was wrong.

What is a fact (and not, I think, an opinion) is that some opinions carry more weight than others. For example, on a specialist subject, the opinion of a recognized expert in that field is going to carry more weight than a layman's opinion. This is natural.

As far as Gravity's Rainbow is concerned, though lexo 1941 is not an expert (though he might be), I would still be inclined to lend more weight on his opinion, as someone who has obviously taken some trouble to read it twice and study it in some depth than on the opinion of someone who has read it just the once, having read other novels in between.

Posted on 20 Feb 2013 23:23:05 GMT
"...a dozen ideas without ever really binding them together." That, my friend, is Pynchon. Strictly loose narrative with which you just have to ride out on a big insurmountable wave of words and arguably beautiful prose.
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