Monday, 14 October 2013

Gravity's Rainbow Is A Good Book

Or why you should read Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon

"A Screaming comes across the sky." And then you are thrust into the entrails of the second world war. Gravity's Rainbow follows a collection of dozens of colourful lunatics as they traipse around the periphery of WW2 embroiled in their own particular obsessions, each profound and unique and strange, as they suffer from the human Condition. If there is one unifying element to the plot of Gravity's Rainbow it is the V2 Rocket, and the particular fixation many core characters have to find or possess or fire a special rocket, the "00000", and its secret payload of the "S-Gerat". It's a fractured, complex storyline, like a narrative fired through a prism that, I think, really stumps casual description, begs to be seen for itself, and encapsulates the sheer fucking insanity of modern life.

Gravity's Rainbow is a masterful and challenging novel. For one thing, the prose of it is beautiful and astonishing. Each sentence is dawn out with a kind of elaborate, needless complexity, that, Rube-Goldberg like, somehow is all the more elegant for it. The tensions, thoughts, and feelings encompassed in single lines and paragraphs can be gawked at and unpacked for ages. Gravity's Rainbow, is as a result one linguistically dense and intellectually taxing read. I gave it what I feel is a fairly cursory reading and I was still quite challenged by it. It's brilliant but tough.

And its challenging nature does not stop with the complexity of its prose or the unorthodox nature of the narrative: Gravity's Raindbow is a conceptual cinderblock. Look, I know things. I am a PhD student in the Life Sciences who did a Biochemistry undergraduate that contained an unusual amount of Chemistry and Calculus (because nobel prize winning historic Chemist faculty). I have taken a goodly amount of 20th century history classes and definitely went through a protracted phase of rocketry obsession in my youth. I have been, however briefly, to many of the cities in which the novel is set. I grew up in a world with the internet and all of its weird perversions a click away. What I am trying to say is that I am a privileged and educated dude with a grounding in many of the ideas that fill out this novel. But despite everything that I know, I feel like I barely grasp the shallowest nuance of Gravity's Rainbow. It is smart in that tungsten-burning-in-a-vacuum way, incandescent and beyond mortal understanding. Again it is very challenging, but with enough clinging effort, there are some really transcendent insights to be gleaned.

Basically, (as if there is anything basic about it) Gravity's Rainbow is a profoundly good book.

I would recommend this book to... well, not everyone. It's complexity, which while very brilliant, is hard, and reading this book at times was a literary marathon, a rewarding ordeal. And I'm not sure that everyone has that masochistic need to invest so much work into enjoying their fiction. If you like effortless, efficient novels that deliver fun, actiony stories and are discouraged by overtly complex books I would avoid it. If you are a literary mountain climber and are willing to trade effort for critically awesome prose or if you are a bucketlister of modern classics of literature than give Gravity's Rainbow a try. It might tax and infuriate you, but what it certainly will not do is disappoint.

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