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Amazing, prophetic, brilliant, hilarious, absolutely epic
on 2 February 2009
This is a phenomenal creation, a 726-page prophecy of everything that Gaddis foresaw was bound to follow from unfettered capitalism as day follows night - almost all of which did indeed transpire, from shortly after its publication in the messy mid-1970s right up to the global capitalist meltdown we're going through now.
Aside from this astonishing prescient quality, it's a laugh-out-loud narrative, fierce and exciting, and so rich that it can't be digested in anything like a hurry. It's a book to wallow in, to enjoy like a deep warm bubble bath savoured in a perfectly lit bathroom. I began it 10 years ago, read nearly 200 pages, and always intended to return to it (okay, I got out of the bath, lived a little, then drew another one!). When I did pick it up again, a couple of months ago, there were many new elements in place to help me get even more from the novel: the two main ones being the Gaddis website where I could refresh my memory of the plot points up to where I left off, and my having engaged in the world of business as I hadn't when much younger.
So I cracked through the next 500 pages, despite their dense dialogue-based content. The lines are so good, true, funny, authentic, vivid, that there's very little to critique, even 34 years after its publication. The mix of barmy satire with more straightforward dramas is held together by the energy of the writing. The characters are all written sympathetically, except perhaps for the relatively minor one who most closely resembles Gaddis himself!
Gaddis wrote a short update to the book in 1987, when the first big stock market crash of the modern era came; but the original is too perfect, and too visionary to need anything like amending, improving, refining. It defines its context, the society that created it. Until that society evolves, and even in the present mire it doesn't really look like it will, JR will remain relevant, percipient, contemporary, and completely and utterly worth the effort.