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28 of 32 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars worth the effort; it all comes together in the end - brilliantly and hilariously, 15 Dec. 2007
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This review is from: Gravity's Rainbow (Paperback)
Most seem to agree that this is THE Pynchon book. Definitely not a quick,light read, but there IS a plot which picks up pace after a while. And what a plot! The most prominent theme centres on one Tyrone Slothrop, an American in England, who was raised in Germany in the decades before WWII, and was exposed in some sort of Pavlovian conditioning experiment (conducted by one Laszlo Jamf) which left him with a sensitivity to a compound which turns out to be present in the V2 rockets raining down on London. 'Pavlovian conditioning' refers (and this is very crude, I realise) to the pioneering work of Behaviourist Psychologist Pavlov(funnily enough) who studied the effect, probably long known to dog and horse trainers, whereby the subject is given a reward for some 'thing', then eventually the subject will perform the 'thing' in anticipation of the reward. It is noted by British boffins and secret service types that every time Slothrop has a sexual encounter a V2 lands not long afterwards, and he is held in a 'facility' sort of like a a Bletchley Park (where Turing et al worked to break the nazi Enigma code), dedicated to occult and psychological warfare, to determine whether he is actually anticipating the stimulus, and therefore predicting V2 strikes. For the first half, or even two thirds, of the book the focus shifts between different characters and locations who, at first, seem to have no connection but WWII, and whose relation to the main plot isn't made clear, but they all start coming together in the most entertaining way as the location shifts to newly, partly,liberated Europe, when Slothrop escapes and heads to Germany to find Jamf (I can't remember why, to be honest), and a 'team' is sent after him to castrate him. It actually becomes quite gripping, and for a finale, he brings all the characters together in a scene so hilarious and brilliant it's the only time I've ever felt like giving a book a round of applause. That scene is obviously his homage to James Joyce, being very reminiscent of the famous chapter in Ulysses where Joyce introduces a series of disparate characters going about their business, apparently unconnected, and then ties them all together by having a character take a coach trip through Dublin and encounter them all. Pynchon does it with a slapstick balloon chase.

The writing style is stunning - practically every page would shame the entire oeuvre of most modern poets. I have known more than a few compulsive talkers in my life, whose thoughts are always rushing ahead of them, whose every word suggests another word. Pynchon is like this, but elevated to genius; everything has ramifications, and the ramifications have ramification, some just tangential, some linked to themes which recur throughout the book, but it does, as some reviewers have noted, make it heavy going sometimes, especially at first. It's wrong, however, to see these flights of fancy as interruptions to the plot; they are what Pynchon DOES - brilliantly - his unique talent.

And what are the overarching themes of the book? Well, what is Gravity's Rainbow? Time? Einstein's theories as the occult faith of the twentieth century? I can't remember if the phrase 'Gravity's Rainbow' actually occurs in the text[afterthought: see the Amazon reviewer; I may have missed the obvious], but it's a suitably indeterminate title for a book which seems to me, like its predecessor 'V'(a harder read, I found, and so do most people), to be essentially about highlighting the fundamentally irrational and even occult basis for much of twentieth century behaviour, something we can see clearly when we look at say the fifteenth century, but less so when it gets closer to home. But don't expect the obvious.

Many writers have tried to advance on, or just emulate, the early modernist experimental writers like Joyce, Virginia Woolf, William Faulkner, to try and to do something more than narrative, and end up doing less; many have tried to write the Great American Novel, or the Great Successor to Ulysses; most seem contrived and pointless, without any real reason to be but Pynchon is a real original, inspired and authentic - also a bit awe-inspiring. A reading experience way beyond the routine; Gravity's Rainbow is so good it could persuade me to try 'V' and 'Mason and Dixon' again. THAT GOOD! THIS, for all its faults, is the Great [late] Twentieth Century Novel!
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Showing 1-7 of 7 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 20 Jul 2010 19:49:15 BDT
Eileen Shaw says:
A very good review which does this extraordinary book credit for its poetic as well as imaginative powers. I'm still on the first third (p.115), but keep wanting to read the last paragraph again because you get such brilliant phrasing and resonant images. I love it.

Posted on 21 Sep 2011 15:41:28 BDT
Bruce says:
"Well, what is Gravity's Rainbow? Time? Einstein's theories as the occult faith of the twentieth century? I can't remember if the phrase 'Gravity's Rainbow' actually occurs in the text[afterthought: see the Amazon reviewer; I may have missed the obvious],"

Well the obvious is that Gravity's Rainbow is the path of a V2 rocket through the air. This means that you can exactly predict the path it will take if you know how much fuel is used and the weight of the rocket. After an initial rise/peak - gravity will take hold and bring the rocket down to earth in a path that looks a bit like a Rainbow across the sky.

In reply to an earlier post on 25 Aug 2012 22:12:20 BDT
Anthony Long says:
Worthy of the great Australian Bruces, cobber. How about 'rainbow' as 'possible spectrum of experience'? How about launch-flight-cutoff-dive as a series of steady homeostatic feedback loops, as programmed as pieces of Pavlov? How about light as energy we can break down and understand and gravity as a ghost we all believe in? How about the rainbow's parabola as the perfect catalyst to consider the easy visual beauty of a multicoloured arc's echo in its implied remainder, under horizon, beyond vision, feel, even - maybe - smell? Meditate, my friend, upon 'extinction beyond the zero' and you may - just - arrive at the limitations of your own consciousness and intelligence and cease to bother us with the bubbles around your dummy. This is adult reading. Engineers need not apply.

Posted on 27 Aug 2012 01:24:17 BDT
I absolutely adore V but I always found the prospect of Gravity's Rainbow slightly foreboding. This review really makes me want to read it, which is the ultimate accolade. I especially liked the lines about Pynchon "highlighting the fundamentally irrational and even occult basis for much of twentieth century behaviour, something we can see clearly when we look at say the fifteenth century, but less so when it gets closer to home. But don't expect the obvious."

In reply to an earlier post on 27 Aug 2012 09:33:53 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Aug 2012 15:56:11 BDT
Jm Leven says:
Well, the discourse is really hotting up here now. Thanks for the compliments.

I'm afraid I think Bruce is probably right, that the arc traced by a rocket is a rainbow shape, and that's all Pynchon had in mind for that particular image. But I had to see something more complicated. I thought, " is a regular rainbow 'light's rainbow' then? ". And I suppose it is, created by it passing through a medium - water vapour. So what could gravity be diffracted/refracted (whatever) through to
give something analagous? Then I got to thinking of how Einstein predicted that gravity would warp time space in the presence of significant mass, and bend light too. So maybe with a stretch of artistic imagination one could postulate time as the rainbow created by the warping of light - I'm sure it wouldn't stand scientifically. But more important, I think that's just my personal musing, rather than Pynchon's - I've been re-reading Gravity's Rainbow recently and, while he goes off on most possible tangents (like most of the ones Mr Long suggests), he doesn't really explore that one - too prosaic probably.

But I still stand by " Einstein's theories as the occult faith of the twentieth century" - the underpinning of our world view ( " Gravity as a ghost we all believe in" as Antony Long says in a comment above - nice one, Antony, if more Newton than Einstein) and not necessarily more rational than counting the number of angels that can dance on the head of a pin. And I think that's a big part of what Pynchon is about in both V and Gravity's Rainbow, from the obvious like the psychologists and spiritualists in the covert warfare team, through all the huge menagerie of characters each driven by a ludicrous personal belief system, like the Schwarzcommando - when old certainties go, anything goes. The 'In the Zone' section, where the action shifts to liberated Europe actually makes me think of another novel , Charles Reade's nineteenth century historical pot-boiler ' the Cloister and the Hearth' (decent wiki entry), which meanders through medieval Europe from one bizarre encounter to the next, but nothing as bizarre as Pynchon describes, and the reality was probably even more so.

I actually found Gravity's Rainbow quite a gripping read, as I said, though you've got to stick with it for the first three hundred pages or so - if you put it down and leave it a while, you'll probably have to go back to the beginning, which has been my experience in trying to re-read it - it's awesome but exhausting.

But V! I tried 3 times over 20 years, though I never personally met anyone who managed to finish it. But I did finish it eventually, and I have no idea what it was about. I felt I'd have to go back to the beginning and read it again, but I haven't found the will so far. Maybe it's pitched beyond my attention span. Mason and Dixon certainly is. I finished that too, but well... there was enough of interest to make me wish I had the energy to read it again and really absorb it, but I don't. But if you love V, you should have no problem with Gravity's Rainbow.

Inherent Vice is a nice little book. It's not great, and wouldn't really give you a hint of Pynchon's greatness - it might be fair to say that Tom Robbins or even Elmore Leonard do this sort of thing better - but if you like Pynchon, there's enough of what you like there in a nice little user-friendly package.

Inherent Vice certainly shares with V and Gravity's Rainbow the hints of over-arching schemes or conspiracies, linkages that seem too much to be coincidental, but then sort of fizzle out or turn out to have innocent explanations - or do they? As an afterthought, I wonder if this had influenced Stanley Kubrick - if he was consciously going for this Pynchon-like effect - in his last film Eyes Wide Shut? I won't spoil it for you, if you haven't seen it - not his best anyway. Actually, when I come to think of it, I did just spoil it for you - but not too much, I hope.

Meanwhile ' Against the Day' has been sitting on my bookshelf for years daring me to start it.

In reply to an earlier post on 22 Sep 2013 19:04:42 BDT
[Deleted by Amazon on 23 Sep 2013 07:53:26 BDT]

In reply to an earlier post on 23 Sep 2013 18:23:14 BDT
Last edited by the author on 27 Sep 2013 09:31:58 BDT
Anthony Long-Leonardo da Vinci was an engineer and Albert Einstein had a very high opinion of them, but then, what would they know? Possibly somewhat more than an enthusiast for a 'Great novel of the twentieth century' that only garners 17 positives on the whole of Amazon u.k.?

As G.B.S. said of the classics-'books everyone wants to have read but nobody wants to read'-so true in this case.
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