Oh dear, it was over a year ago that I actually read ‘V’ by Thomas Pynchon. Needless to say, my new year’s resolution has nothing to do with prospective reading challenges and is far more concerned with catching up with the pile of books to review left over from 2018.
The good news is that, in the case of ‘V’, it really doesn’t matter. In the aimlessly paranoid, hallucinogenic haze that I associate with Pynchon’s novels, a year here or there barely registers. Even though an overriding apocalyptic dread or protagonist’s ostensible quest (both, in the case of ‘V’) give purpose to the narrative, this is gently undercut by Pynchon’s incredibly ability to meander through the most pressing of 20th century issues. In the words of the original Time magazine review for the book, ‘in this sort of book, there is no total to arrive at. Nothing makes any waking sense.’ This is of course meant as a compliment.
The plot, for what there is, involves the search for V, which could be a person or a place or something else entirely. Given the nebulous nature of the quest, the book only spends a certain number of hysterical pages tracing it, focusing instead on equally important tangents (my favourite probably being the hunt for alligators in the New York sewer system). The lack of sense is a definite blessing – for me, it palliates dated and offensive ideas lurking through the narrative. For all his otherworldliness, Pynchon was very much a writer of his historical moment and, in addition to beautiful flights of fancy, I also found myself noting phrases such as the throw-away line ‘a woman is only half of something there are usually two sides to.’
Trigger warning in place, I do recommend ‘V’ if you fancy something non-urgent and dreamlike in which to lose yourself this winter. I’m almost tempted to start a re-read myself – but of course I’ll have to finish my reviews of the equally weird and meandering ‘Lanark’ and ‘The Magic Mountain’ first!