on 26 May 2015
Fantastic book; I really enjoyed it. It's a fun (and mind-melting) read. It is a very short novella, but it feels like a longer piece as it can require a little re-reading to really 'get' not that you ever can.
Feel like it's the sort of book that nobody can review objectively - I'd advise reading it at least once and seeing for yourself. But if you like reading, 'd highly recommend.
Truth be told, I ought not to like this book. I've never been much of a fan of post-modernism, and this novella almost certainly falls within that category. As for conspiracy theory novels, well, don't get me started! But, and here is a very big 'however', this book is funny, perceptive and thought-provoking. It has all the density of Pynchon's other works but in a much shorter form. Read other reviewers to learn something of the plot and characters, but just be warned, reading this might send you seriously paranoid. Unmarked white vans, strange symbols and the revenge of the disposessed all come into it. Then there is the evidence of a collection of strangely defaced postage stamps. It is precisely because there is no satisfactory resolution to the story that you start to worry that some of it might just be true.
on 12 August 2010
Thomas Pynchon is widely regarded as one of the great American writers of the twentieth century; an author who leads us down the dark paths of the human mind towards the light of the post-modernist utopia. The glowing reviews of this very book testify to his writing talent and (perhaps surprising) popularity. He is, therefore, indisputably a literary giant, and anyone who purports to have any interest in twentieth century America better have read him. He is also, however, - as another reviewer pointed out - pretentious in the extreme; any author who calls their protagonist Oedipa (oh, I wonder what the allusion is there?) is undeniably that. Having said that, in this book he has managed to reign in his natural tendency to obfuscation. I personally found 'Gravity's Rainbow' virtually impenetrable, not so much because it's too 'complicated' for me to understand, as the fact that it's actually quite boring not knowing what's supposed to be going on, the lengthy Slothrop digression down a toilet being not so much intellectual as pointless, and frankly the final straw before I gave up at about the one hundred page mark. Having read little else in the Pynchon oeuvre I hesitate to comment on his other books (although the mammoth size of 'Mason & Dixon' and 'Against the Day' don't fill me with confidence), but my experience of 'GR' was negative. This, however, is exactly what draws me to recommend 'The Crying of Lot 49'. It suffers much less from the Pynchonesque confusion, and forms a neatly self-contained mystery, a pocket sized post-modernist allusion. It's rewarding as a read in those terms - don't look for realism here - and as an attempt to pierce under the surface of things. Where 'GR' gets lost in its own self-referentialism, 'The Crying' just manages to walk the tightrope of Pynchon land; balanced between collapsing into nonsense and turning into pulp fiction. By managing to tread so close to these twin dangers and escaping Pynchon creates a taunt black comedy, one that leads the reader to the very precipice of literature's own contemporary decline and fall. Don't bother with his great tomes, this is his small masterpiece, and if you don't much like it, well, at least it's only a hundred or so pages.
on 18 October 2007
Some people will find Thomas Pynchons's style almost inpenetrable(it's been described by critics as turgid and overwritten before) - so rather than getting stuck straight into V or Gravity's Rainbow (500 pages +) those who wish to read Thomas Pynchon may like to try this first at a little over 100 pages.
Although there are many comic scenes in the book the overall effect is starkly melancholy, as the main character, Oedipa Maas, prompted by the contents of an ex-lover's estate of which she is unexpectedly made executrix, obsessively pursues a secret postal service with medieval roots in Europe, which appears to exert a malign yet unclear effect on society...or does it? The book never answers this, as it ends just as Oedipa may be about to find an answer.
Instead the reader is left with a bleak sense of Oedipa's growing paranoia, neurosis and unhealthy fixation with the apparent secret society, in a likely metaphor for conspiracy theorists and cults everywhere. It's a funny book, but the madness of obsession and paranoia are well conveyed in the subtext of the plot, and might leave you feeling creeped.......
on 18 September 2013
For a very short book, this took me a long time to get through it; and the only reason for this is that Pynchon's writing demands that you give your undivided attention to every single beautifully crafted word. This book is the curious (sometimes downright strange and surreal) tale of Oedipa Maas, married to the pitiful DJ Mucho, who can't believe in himself any more after his traumatic post as a salesman in a used car lot, who is appointed executor of her former lover, Pierce Inverarity's estate.
From that point on, Oedipa goes on something of the classic American road trip, attempting to untangle the convoluted affairs of Inverarity, but along the way, uncovering a conspiracy underlying the US mail system, uncovering the source of a text of an obscure Jacobean revenge play, but principally discovering (and losing) much about herself along the way.
The book has a plot which is something of a spiral in form as earlier strands are constantly picked up and dropped again, until the reader, as well as the heroine, is going round and round in circles in the attempt to discover... well, what I'm not really sure, but it was a lot of fun getting there.
I loved the plot of the Jacobean revenge play - I've got to say all those bits about the text and only "words" being left over were my favourite bits, but there's something for everyone in here (music lovers, philatelists, historians, conspiracy theorists... I could go on).
This is a smart, short, slick, funny book - but reading it is a serious undertaking.
on 5 September 2003
This is one of the strangest yet most haunting novels I’ve ever read. It seems to stand apart from many other novels just by its seemingly obscure subject matter and the way in which it draws you into it. The novel is written in quite free flowing, dense text. This, whilst not making it indecipherable can be quite a challenge at times. It is by this method Pynchon draws the reader themselves into the story. The fact that Pynchon can create so much atmosphere in such a short novel is a testament to his craftsmanship.
The Novel (for me) was mainly about the notion of possibility. Nothing much is resolved in the story but so much is suggested. Is WASTE just an isolated cult in that part of California or is there a sector in every town in America? Oedipa goes through the novel with all these possibilities running through her mind. The more she finds out the more possibilities appear to her. It’s like staring at a dark wall and then suddenly realizing is crawling with ants. Her discoveries could change everything, even the ground beneath her feet or it could just be a joke set up by a dead guy with a sense of humour.
The crux of the novel is quite a frightening prospect. If such a massive network, like this can exist beneath Oedipa’s nose and she has never even considered the existence of it, what else could be there that Oedipa and all of us are not aware of?
Pychon draws the reader into this world which resembles an old fashioned X-Files tale. The detail of the historical information in the novel even makes the reader question whether WASTE exists in the real world. Thus putting us on a par with Oedipa and making the experience of the novel all the more vivid. WASTE could just be a small benign thing that is kept running by a few devoted anti-establishment types or maybe, just maybe...
This novel will certainly stay with me for a long time to come.
on 17 June 2013
Having just completed William Gibson's 'Neuromancer', 'The Crying of Lot 49' came as a welcome contrast. Pynchon's clarity of thought, taste for the absurd, and dark humour distinctly refreshing.
I enjoyed much of the curious digressions of the story, the jumble of odd-balls, the growing paranoia of Oedipa Maas, our reluctant co-executor of a Californian tycoon, ex-lover's will. However, the events, and the unfolding conspiracy theory regarding Trystero (a secret postal system), all seemed somewhat incidental to me: sub-plottish. I was expecting something more compelling, revealing something of the chief characters. Instead, Trystero becomes a rather forced, unwanted focus.
All along I didn't really understand why Oedipa Maas becomes so engrossed in this slither of Pierce Inverarity's legacy or how the minor staged references to Trystero (literally and figuratively) could trigger her curiosity so greatly. Maybe because the Trystero mystery just never really grabbed me.
I don't consider this work impenetrable, as some reviewers have suggested - yes, it has some ambiguous, poetic moments, and sometimes jarring prose, but, in my opinion, never alienating or exclusive. In fact, I offer a guarded recommendation. The writing is worth it. I may well tackle his larger tomes one day.
on 6 January 2015
I think I bought this Pynchon because John Fowles spoke of him positively and I so enjoyed JF's The Magus, and because I generally enjoy postmodern literature. The style is not for me, however - the sentences flow aimlessly one into the next, and it feels like Pynchon just dumped all his chemically enhanced thoughts onto the page, and then got lazy and decided to publish the novella as it was. The plot failed to grip me as it was improbable yet insufficiently surreal, so I wasn't sure if it was aiming to be a realist story or some rather colourful parable. The language, as mentioned, was careless and a bit annoying. I wanted to punch the main character Oepida and can't remember any of the side characters. Despite being a novella, this was an exhausting drag and 2 weeks I will never get back.
on 8 July 2003
I haven't attempted Gravity's Rainbow yet but after reading The Crying of Lot 49 know that I will - it's on my bookshelf for the moment I finish DeLillo's Underworld which is an epic journey in itself. If you haven't read any Pynchon, don't even try it without making yourself very comfortable with a notebook, a biro and a perplexed look. Combining a vast complexity of narrative themes and strands, this novel (and it is tremendously novel) also makes startling use of different types of media including film and drama ensuring that the reader is never allowed to relax and miss the point. The reader is torn between voyeurism and genuine fear as Oedipa appears knowing but unwitting and definitely not in control. She's a great creation through which to explore the notions of modern femininity, marriage, religion, our attitudes to death, to drama, to mass media and our insatiable consumption of it, and so many other things that this book explores. Read it at your peril, ignore it at your peril - it's one of those books you didn't know you couldn't live without until you'd finished reading it.
on 3 January 2012
I was glad this book was short as I had to read it twice before I (vaguely) understood it. When I first read the crying of lot 49 I thought the prose deliberately impenetrable and in places a bit too nerdy with a weak plot running through it. The second time I read it I began to get all the pieces of the novel, though some things I find as irrelevant, like the description of a Jacobean play, and the history of two rival postal systems. We are in the electronic age, right?
I am (partly) a Pynchon fan, loving Gravity's Rainbow, thought V al right, and hated Against the Day, but I don't know how to class this one, except maybe with a shrug of the shoulders. Read this if you want but you won't get anything out of it.