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3.7 out of 5 stars
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3.7 out of 5 stars
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on 14 September 2017
Great literature. owing a good deal to Joyce's Ulysses. But, long, long, and a difficult read.
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on 2 September 2017
Fantastic; a book you simply have to read!
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on 27 July 2012
1) It's about rocket science. Therefore, it allows for a hypothetical situation in which, hearing you complain about what a long, hard read it is, some passer-by rolls his eyes and mutters, "it's not rocket science." To which you can reply that actually, it is.

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.
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on 23 August 2014
Firstly the star rating. I've given Gravity's Rainbow a 5. Other people wil give it 1. Of course, everybody's different and that is as it should be. But for a book to get two ratings, both legetimate, at opposite ends of the scale should tell you something about the book. This is one that either you'll love or hate. I come into the former category. I have a well thumbed copy, some 20 plus years old now. I've actually read the book from cover to cover twice, but mostly I read bits, sections, passages. Pynchon has the ability to write prose that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck; that makes you stop, take a deep breath then go back and read the sentence or paragragh again because it's just so good. Very few writers can do that.
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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on 27 April 2015
Ignore anyone who bigs it up as a difficult read, it's challenging at parts but no more so than most good books. It's simply a pleasure to read, hilarious , detailed, vast and despite its length gripping. The only problem is you'll feel compelled to tell everyone about it and they'll not have a clue what you're talking about. Octopuses, giant adenoids , every kind of sex imaginable, monkeys drinking vodka, missile induced erection , it has it all.
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…and it is should be no surprise that Fourier analysis should be mentioned in this vast, extremely complex, astonishingly erudite novel. The author, Thomas Pynchon includes the equation that describes motion under the aspect of yaw control while steering “between Scylla and Charybdis.” In another section, he notes the double integral sign, and compares it to the symbol for the Waffen SS as well as two lovers curled in embrace, back to front.

Fourier analysis? In essence, it is the taking of a complex wave, and attempting to break it down into the sum of its trigonometric functions. With Pynchon’s novel, the prose itself requires such analysis. Sometimes slapstick, with barroom ditties, other times with playful or not so playful random associations, and at others, straightforward prose that describes the Russian colonization of Central Asia, the German genocide in Southwest Africa, or the crushing of the gauchos, like Martin Fierro, in the Argentine. He mixes in scathing critiques on the nature of power in society, worthy of C. Wright Mills, with the poetry of Emily Dickson: “Because I could not stop for death, He kindly stopped for me.” He mixes in different languages, with German being prominent, but also French, Spanish, and even Middle Dutch. In another novel of his, V., he had a perfect line of Arabic. I recently read C.P. Snow’s The Two Cultures (Canto Classics) which decried the abyss between the scientific and literary cultures. Pynchon bridges them perfectly.

The protagonist – of sorts – is Tyrone Slothrop, who can trace his Pilgrim ancestors back to 1630. His family never got further west that the Berkshires, where he was raised, and may have been the subject of some youthful clinical experiments. The novel opens with him in London during the German V-2 rocket attacks. He is working in intelligence, and they are trying to predict the pattern of the V-2 targets. Naturally the Poisson distribution is in play, but someone else notices a strong correlation between the targets and Slothrop’s trysts. Hum. Experiments on him follow at “The White Visitation,” worthy of the CIA-sponsored “research” that was a guiding principle at Gitmo. The novel follows Slothrop’s path across Europe at the end of the war, in a wild phantasmagoria, to Pennemunde, the source of so many of those V-2’s. Along the way, many an interesting tangent is taken, like depicting the extinction of the dodos in Mauritius. Did the schwarzkommando (black soldiers from Southwest Africa) really exist, or were they a Pynchon invention? And how did the Russian, Tchitcherine, with his own obsession with the V-2’s, and Enzian (in the schwarzkommando) get to be half-brothers? Pynchon explains, brilliantly.

As examples of Pynchon’s C. Wright Mills-like insights, Pynchon posits a snake eating its tail, and says: “The World is a closed thing, cyclical, resonant, eternally returning… is to be delivered into a system whose only aim is to violate the Cycle. Taking and not giving back, demanding that ‘productivity’ and ‘earnings’ keep on increasing with time, the System removing from the rest of the World these vast quantities of energy to keep its own tiny desperate fraction showing a profit: and not only most of humanity- most of the World, animal, vegetable and mineral is laid waste in the process.”

On the “1%,” 40 years before the expression was invented: “all the animals, the plants, the minerals, even other kinds of men, are being broken and reassembled every day, to preserve an elite few, who are the loudest to theorize on freedom, but the least free of all.” Also some wonderful and memorable aphorisms: “Organization charts are plan views of prison cells.”

Primordial instincts and needs? Ah, sweet sex. It too permeates the novel. And Pynchon is definitely a “leg man.” He writes of “…stockings pulled up tight in classic cusps by the suspenders” and the impact that it has had on Western men – hum – for a century, “…to the sight of this singular point at the top of a lady’s stocking, this transition from silk to skin and suspender! It’s easy for non-fetishists to sneer about Pavlovian conditioning and let it go at that, but any underwear enthusiast worth his unwholesome giggle can tell you there is much more here – there is a cosmology: of nodes and cusps and points of osculation, mathematical kisses… singularities! Consider cathedral spires, holy minarets, the crunch of train wheels over the points as you watch peeling away the track you didn’t take…” Whew!

Far less erotically, there is the passage about the impact on one survivor of the Battle of Passchendaele, and his visits to Domina Nocturna. The Pulitzer Prize Board found this passage so offensive that they refused to award their prize to this novel in 1974, preferring to make no award at all. It is a rhetorical question to ask: Was the passage itself more offensive than the battle, which spanned more than three months, advanced the front line a distance of less than what we could walk in an hour, with the price being at least 300,000 casualties from one small island nation and its far-flung dominions?

This is my second reading of the novel. The first reading was in the 1974, when the novel was first issued, and I lived in an antebellum house in east Atlanta, without air conditioning. It took me most of the summer to read it. I committed then to re-read it, and here it is, some 40 years later, and now I have been to many of the places mentioned in the novel, including Southwest Africa. I remain humbled by Pynchon’s erudition, particularly in the pre-Internet age, and particularly for his age when he wrote it: the early 30’s. On the second time around, with the Internet, and many more years, maybe I “get” only 70-80% of the novel. Can I do it a third time, and wring more pleasure and meaning out of it? Time will tell. In the meantime, I continue to consider it the greatest American novel. 6-stars, plus.
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on 19 March 2017
I would like to like Pynchon more, but find the narrative very dense and requiring a lot of attention. Tried Gravitys Rainbow but couldnt get far. This was much more accessible and a good story too. Reccomend.
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on 2 February 2015
If you can flash your Mensa card at the door, you can gain access to this book. No one else need apply. While I’m no intellectual slouch myself, and I’m used to permitting my brain to bleed in the pursuit of self-transcendence, it’s safe to say that no amount of blood letting was going to make this book an ounce less opaque to me. Reading with the cliff notes in hand (I kid you not), entitled A Gravity Rainbow’s companion, I fared little better. I’m giving this book 3 stars because the 50% or so of the book that didn’t go over my head, I confess did strike me as true genius. I imagine if I could have gotten a few more of those obtuse aspersions, and literary in-jokes, and could have thrown another 25 or so IQ points at this tome, I’m guessing it would have ended up being 4 or even 5 stars.

There’s no question the author and I are kindred spirits. Our mutual penchant for writing about out-of-control government forces, and our shared general disdain for the abuses of power in its many splendored forms cannot be denied. One of Pynchon’s dictums, moreover, is one I often paraphrase in my own works. Namely the more you try and control the world, the crazier things get. It’s as if humans have a self-correcting gene, a kind of natural immunity to abuses of power that manifests as widening chaos the moment the all-powerful attempt to get us in their steely clutches. Pynchon’s insight, I feel, describes the essential drama I see playing out across the globe.
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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.
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on 9 May 2015
Astounding.
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