Gravity's Rainbow Paperback – 20 Jul 1995
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"The best seller described as the kind of Ulysses which Joyce might have written if he had been a Boeing engineer with a fetish for quadrille paper" (Irish Examiner)
"Pynchon’s masterpiece." (John Sutherland Guardian)
"This stunner is already classed with Moby Dick and Ulysses. Set in Europe at the end of WWII, with the V2 as the White Whale, the novel's central characters race each other through a treasure hunt of false clues, disguises, distractions, horrific plots and comic counterplots to arrive at the formula which will launch the Super Rocket... Impossible here to convey the vastness of Pynchton's range, the brilliance of his imagery, the virtuosity of his style and his supreme ability to incorporate the cultural miasma of modern life" (Vogue)
"Pynchon leaves the rest of the American lierary establishment at the starting gate...the range over which he moves is extraordinary, not simply in terms of ideas explored but also in the range of emotions he takes you through" (Time Out)
"Entering this enormous novel is like buying a ticket for the ghost train and plunging into a world of metaphysical illusion, where you must forget earlier notions about life and letters and even the Novel" (Financial Times)
Thomas Pynchon's opus magnus, a post-modern masterpiece and a dark satire of twentieth century culture and civilisation from one of the all-time greats of American literature.
Winner of the National Book Award.
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2) It has rude bits. Very rude bits. Frankly just plain wrong bits. So, while others see you reading a classic of post-modern literature, you'll know you're actually reading about extreme fetish sex that makes 50 Shades of Gray look like The Jane Austen Guide to Better Intimate Relations.
3) When it's not baffling or scatological, it's funny. For instance: Pynchon's description of the full horrors of traditional British confectionary is hilarious, and will be utterly familiar to anyone that remembers having cough candy forced onto them by sadistic grandparents.
4) You will get fit reading it. If you're the kind of person who is even contemplating reading this book, chances are that sport was not your best subject at school. A couple of weeks of holding this breezeblock while continually scratching your head and stroking your chin will leave you with arms like a stevedore's.
5) You will get stuff done around the house. That fence panel that needs fixing, that leak in the roof, that room you've been meaning to tidy; once Gravity's Rainbow makes your leisure time harder work than your chores, your normal prevarication routines will be completely turned on their head. Friends and family will wonder how your scruffy dusty book filled slum has been transformed into a gleaming futurist show home, and you'll be able to recommend them some reading material that does the job better than any bottle of Mr Muscle.
6) It will provide endless amusement as you try to relate to friends and family just what has happened in the last fifty pages that you've read. "Well, there was this toilet ship... No, a ship full of toilets... I'm not sure, I think it was a battleship... No, it was manned by a cadre of Nazi herero rocket technicians.... I'm not making this up, you know. I couldn't."
7) It will, if you finish it, allow you to look down on everybody who hasn't read it, apart from the three vanishingly small groups of people who have read Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake, or Against the Day. No-one else will care, but you will, and you can always use the greater world's indifference to your titanic achievement in the field of persistently reading something very large and very confusing as evidence of an anti-you conspiracy.
8) Everything on your bookshelf will look easy, or at least within the realms of possibility for you to read, afterwards. Your confidence will be sky-high. Legendarily difficult authors - Faulkner, Woolf, Nabokov - all will look about as challenging as a Janet and John marathon after your eyes have wearily crawled across the last page of Gravity's Rainbow. Be warned, though - under no circumstances should you listen to that voice in your head telling you to head straight into Ulysses, Finnegan's Wake or Against the Day immediately afterwards. That way lies madness. Have a break. Something nice and light, like Gunter Grass, or Pope's Iliad.
9) It will make the real world seem explicable and simple. The confusing currents of modern politics, socio-sexual relationships and inter-office internecine warfare will feel like a refuge, in which people do not speak in baffling riddles constructed from references to things you've barely heard of; in which you have a reasonable grasp on when someone is telling you certifiable historical fact and when they're just stringing you along with a very long shaggy dog story; and in which effect still has the good manners to open the door for cause and say to it, "after you."
10) It is very, very good indeed. Not quite good enough to justify reading it without the compounding factors already mentioned, but very good nonetheless. Pynchon is a fantastic prose stylist, his authorial voice mercurially slipping from the conversational to the conspiratorial to the satirical to the comic to the omniscient to the omnipotent. The degree of research that has gone into Gravity's Rainbow is mind-boggling; it is like being trapped in a lift for two weeks with a hyperactive compulsive talker who has memorised the contents of an insanely esoteric library's German History section. His post-modernist stance allows him to draw connections between the most unlikely points, reconfiguring the familiar linear path of history into the sprawling squiggle of a madman. While it might seem absurd, it probably has a closer resemblance to the manner in which history actually unfolds than the comfortingly familiar arc of cause and effect we use to manage our perception of the world. I'm not saying you should read it; that would be cruel. But if, for some inexplicable reason you choose to do so anyway, you won't regret it. Most of it, anyway.
I won't bother trying to tell you what the books about, although there is a passage towards the end, one of those you read, re-read and then re-read again, that comes as close as Pynchon ever would, to giving you a guide to the book (it's the one that begins 'It's been a prevalent notion. Fallen sparks...') The only piece of advice I'd give is this, if you want an easy read, nice plot where all the ends are tied up, and where your brain doesn't have to work too hard, leave this book well alone - either you'll throw it through the window or it'll send you round the bend. If, on the other hand, you like a challenge, then this book is for you - it could be the best novel you'll ever read. Yes, it is that good!
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