Friday, March 30, 2007

Bilocation, Bilocation

Terrorism and murder infiltrating the leather and willow of the cricket field. The UK and US meddling in affairs in Asia and the Balkans with disastrous results. Fundamentally corrupt big business ruthlessly seeking to crush dissent and hijack innovation from the individual. Men and women violently embracing hedonism and promiscuity as a refuge from the prospect of apocalypse that seems portended by a rapidly escalating series of 'natural' disasters.

Fret not, Parallax View hasn't turned into a torn-from-today's-headlines socio-political commentary weblog overnight. Instead, we're referring to the contents of Against The Day, the mammoth 1,085 page tome and latest novel by Thomas Pynchon, which your correspondent completed at the weekend. Although notionally set in the period between the Chicago World Fair of 1895 to the early days of post-WW1 Hollywood, the parallels are clearly there to be drawn with events straddling our most recent turn of the century. Indeed, the book could be read as either a warning that society is heading for another meltdown or a call to arms for those who value their liberty to stand up to be counted for what they believe is right, or (more probably) maybe both.

Although any book of this sort of size and scope is not without its challenges, this is a less stylised and more accessible book than the previous Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, although many of the themes of that book (and indeed, his entire oeuvre) are continued here. The battling forces of ruthless capitalism and stoic anarchism are here broadly represented by two families headed by the loathsome Scarsdale Vibe and the dynamite renegade Webb Traverse but there are also other dualities throughout - light and dark; quarternionists vs vectorists (don't ask); the competing airship crews which hover over proceedings and the perpetual schism that is the battle of the sexes.

Yet while the book is undeniably dense in intertextuality, political context, literary pastiche and scientific/mathematical exploration, it would be doing this novel a huge disservice not to mention that it's also a right rollicking read. Pynchon makes much more effort than in Mason & Dixon to sustain interest in his epic through the normal constituents of pulp fiction - the book spans continents breathlessly and features wild-west shootouts; love triangles (and just about every other love angle imaginable); time travel (in a nod to HG Wells); spy story intrigue in exotic climes and climaxes with a hard-boiled detective story. Frequently hilarious, erotic and thrilling, the book is best first consumed as an epic adventure story, the themes, context and message being absorbed en route for later reflection.

As proceedings helter-skelter towards their dark denouement many of the characters find themselves drawn to debauchery of varying degrees, in a riot of fucking and sucking which is less about liberation but more about orgying against the dying of the light. And yet these being pre-prophylaptic times (even in Pynchon's dimension-defying imagination) there's arguably a further subconscious intent at work in the subsequent begatting of children who keep the motor running in the ongoing heroic struggle of life. Ultimately Pynchon is revealed once more as a fatalist (business always wins in the end) and optimist (the battle against this is always worthwhile) in perhaps the biggest duality of all.

POSTSCRIPT: Pynchon is, of course, as well known for his reclusive demeanour as for his genre-defying novels. Could it be that he is so shifty about his identity to make it all the more easy for him to stalk humble British blogging types? Only askin' 'cos he references your correspondent's beloved West Ham (check out page 503, football fiction fact fans) and includes a shady hepcat character towards the end called Chester LeStreet (your hack's father's birthplace). So c'mon, Tommy, 'fess up in the comments box, and don't forget readers, if you see some old geezer lurking in the Barfly or Wulfrun watching some shambling indiepop shenanigans, it could be Dead Kenny or it might just as easily be our legendary author avatar instead!

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2 Comments:

Anonymous graybo said...

Parallax View in rare daytime posting shock! Has Dead Kenny thrown a sicky?

12:51 PM  
Blogger Dead Kenny said...

My daytime paymasters have been known to grant leave on occasion, G, or have you forgotten about holidays since you've been self-employed so long ;-)

And it's cold. And wet. And reviews are better out than in, don't you think? Particularly the pretentious ones!

2:37 PM  

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