878 of 892 people found the following review helpful
on February 2, 2003
Gravity's Rainbow is a book you either love or hate, and if you hate it it's probably because you couldn't finish the ... thing. Though by no means impenetrable, the novel is daunting enough to merit a list of tips for those wishing to tackle it for the first time. Below is my advice on how new readers can get over the hump. Trust me, it's a small hump, and the masterpiece that lies on the other side is worth the effort.
1. Read V first... Pynchon's V is shorter and more accessible than Gravity's Rainbow, but addresses the same themes in a similar style. If you enjoyed V, you will have built up a reserve of goodwill for Pynchon that will carry you through the initial rough patches of Gravity's Rainbow. This advice was given to me years ago, and I'm glad I took it.
2. Accept that you won't understand everything...Don't be concerned if you can't follow the many digressions or keep track of every minor character that pops up. As with other famously difficult novels, Gravity's Rainbow's real payoff comes in the rereading, so you shouldn't feel obliged to linger over each passage until it makes sense. Pynchon isn't trying to lord it over you by writing a book this dense; it's just his way of giving you your money's worth. Just follow what you can the first time through, which fortunately is a lot.
3. Accentuate the accessible...Gravity's Rainbow's unreadability is over-hyped. Yes, there are many jarring digressions, but threading through them is a fairly conventional detective story. Sure there are lyrical passages that take off for the stratosphere, but they are grace notes in a melody of otherwise breezy narrative prose. So on your first time through, it's enough to follow the main plot (will Slothrop find the mysterious Rocket 00000?) and enjoy Pynchon's jokes, which are laugh-out-loud funny.
4. Don't give up too early...I don't want to say that Gravity's Rainbow gets off to a slow start, but it has a lot of scene-setting to do, and the engine that really drives the book along only gets revved up in part 2. Part 1 is a well-executed minor key portrait of wartime London, but part 2 is where the drugs kick in, so stick with the novel at least that far.
244 of 259 people found the following review helpful
on August 12, 1997
There are a number of reasons one might write a review of a book. Most of these reasons aren't all that helpful when it comes to Gravity's Rainbow.
One reason is to provide potential readers with a sense of the book (plot, structure, style, characterization). The best way to get a sense of Gravity's Rainbow is to read the first page. It basically goes on like that for another seven or eight hundred more.
Another reason is to enlighten the world with your sparkling insight into the subtlties of symbolism and layers of meaning in the book. With regard to Gravity's Rainbow, you can save that stuff for your weekly book club. The symbolism and layered meaning in GR are about as subtle as a rocket attack on a movie theater. This is why GR is often compared to Finnegan's Wake. If you've ever watched Joseph Campbell explain that novel, you realize that the search for deep intellectual insight is a conceit. These novels require your best effort just to understand the LITERAL stuff.
Another reason to review a book is to provide your own subjective opinion about the overall quality of the experience. I've found that many such GR reviews fall into one of two camps: "I read 'X' pages and couldn't/didn't finish it" or "Thomas Pynchon is God". The problem with reviews like this is that they say more about the meta-experience (sorry, but that is the appropriate word) of reading the book than they do about the book itself. Those of us who finish it are subject to a kind of "Iron John" machismo which falls apart if we are forced to admit that the whole thing might be a colossal put-on. On the other hand, those who give up can't help feeling that perhaps they are missing the big IT and don't like feeling that they might be unable to appreciate genius.
So is it the Emperor's New Clothes, or Pearls Before Swine?
It doesn't matter. The question is probably meaningless anyway.
If you like incredibly obscure cultural references, if you like dense imagery, if you like chilling portrayals of paranoia and the dire consequences to humans when people with power succumb to it and if you like conspiracy theory, you'll dig this book.
I do, so I did.
On the other hand, if you're hung up on little things like narrative structure, characterization, plot, etc., I'd stay away.
124 of 130 people found the following review helpful
on November 18, 1999
Gravity's Rainbow probably gets a more outrageously diverse set of responses than any other book by a living author; it's supposed to be either a brilliant, compendious, funny, tragic novel about war, modernity and history or a stupid, slack, paranoid rant by a burnt-out (probable) druggy. The first time I read it it took me nine months, and when I'd finished I didn't know what had happened, but I knew I'd had the most amazing ride of my life along the way. The second time took me four weeks (it's a long book) and this time, it revealed itself as a masterpiece. (Well, Nabokov always said that you only read a book properly the second time around.) Ignore the begrudgers; never mind who Pynchon is supposed to be "better" or "worse" than; don't worry about not understanding all of it first go. Pynchon is one of the most intelligent and well-read novelists of all time, more so than you or I, but he has a rock'n'roll heart; nobody else can leap from zoot-suited craziness to rocket chemistry to diving down a toilet in search of a lost harmonica (twenty years before Trainspotting, kids) to minutely researched accounts of genocide and still keep littering his wildly elastic prose with daft little songs. There were probably people in ancient Greece who thought that Homer was an untalented driveller, too. Ignore them. Dive in. Enjoy. The last page is a killer.
158 of 168 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2012
Reading Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow is hard enough without deletions, typos, and occasional rewording of the authors original work. But that's what you get with this so-called "Deluxe Edition" put out by Penguin in 2006.
Starting GR I realized I wasn't getting the full story (even though this is Pynchon), so I borrowed a 1973 edition and started comparing it to my Penguin "Deluxe Edition". Within the first 100 pages I found at least a dozen typos, rewordings, and just plain deletions.
An example, pp. 139-140, last sentence:
...Your task, in the dreams, is often to [cross under the trees through the shadows before something hap] pens.
The portion in the brackets is totally absent in this copy. Deletions like this make for a completely incomprehensible novel and ruin the author's work.
Note that my rating doesn't reflect my opinion of GR, just the "Deluxe Edition" Penguin has put forth (2006 ed.). Frankly, Penguin's QA/proofing department should be ashamed for putting out such a turd.
For the love of the Mistress of the Night, please, avoid this edition!!!
197 of 224 people found the following review helpful
on February 25, 1999
When I first read this book I did so without wanting to put any effort into it. I was lazy. I didn't bother to look up any of the historical, scientific, or pop cultural references. Moreover, if a difficult word popped up I didn't bother to reach for a dictionary to find out what it meant. Often I'd think to myself, 'Who is Clausewitz?' or 'What is a narodnik?', and then I'd move on without finding out what these terms actually meant ( even though I could have found an answer right away by simply typing any of these terms into an internet search engine ). The process was arduous, painful, and frustrating. I hated this book. I simply didn't know what he was saying because I couldn't put anything into context. The second time I read Gravity's Rainbow I purchased an annotated guide, while also making an effort to find some of the more obscure references myself. Though I can't claim to understand everything he was saying, I did grow comfortable scrabbling about Pynchon's exotic little universe. I came to respect the genius of this book, both in a thematic and artistic sense. I believe that one of Pynchon's goals is to dare the reader into reading this book. Simply put, he wants us to work. Kierkegaard said that being a Christian should not be an easy task. The same is true, I think, in literature. For, the safer literature gets, the more it comes to resemble TV. Yes, on the surface this book is difficult, even pretentious. But if you work at it, that is, actually make an effort to understand Pynchon's somewhat obscure references and his abstruse vocabulary, the results are most rewarding. Simply put, he's not going to spoonfeed literature to his audience. Nor, as a reader, should you want to be spoonfed.
56 of 61 people found the following review helpful
on September 7, 2007
"Some joker put hashish in the hollandaise, causing a run on the brocolli." Just another event in the life of Lt. Tyron Slothrop, who was attending the wild party in question in the Herman Goering casino as part of his search for the Schwatzgerat--the V2 rocket (serial no. 00000) which carries the mysterious Imipolex G device--all over wartime Europe, while the British secret service, and assorted others, search for *him*.
Why? You'll have to read the book. Along the way, he meets--among many others--a British captain with black-market connections that allow him to have fresh bananas in London's wartime winter in return for homegrown "magic mushroom" drugs; an African tribe whose members serve in the SS as V2 crews; an insane American Major whose solidiers sing diry limmericks about the V2's various components; an Italian nobleman--and a British Brigadier--with odd sexual practices (even by Pynchon's standards); and that's just the start of it.
The adventures of Lt. Slothrop in this mad looking-glass world are funny, amusing, bizzare, and complex. What's more--and this is what makes the novel a masterpiece--Pynchon integrates so many actual facts into his fictional world that it makes it and its inhabitants have much more versimilitude than the people described in most *non*-fiction works about WWII. Slothrop is more "real" than the Hitler we read about in most biographies of the man; his friends and enemies more real than, say, the defendants in Nuremberg are in most books about the trial.
If Pynchon speaks, say, of a car used by a lieutenant in a specific sub-department of the German Army in 1944, you can be damn sure that particular car model was in fact used by just such lieutenants at the time in reality; that pynchon took into account the wartime shortages that made the car's quality to deteriorate from 1944 to 1941; and that the lieutenant's resentment of this would be relevant to the plot.
To be sure, the lieutenant might then want to kill Slothrop in order to fulfill an anient prophecy based on Mayan star charts (which you can bet are also accurately portrayed); or to have a homosexual affair with him; or to do any number of bizzare or absurd things that one would expect in the looking-glass world where the novel is set. But that is just what makes this novel so great: Pycnhon doesn't research to teach us facts about WWII--even if a lot of the facts he puts in the novel are probably unknown even to WWII history buffs (like myself). He *uses* his research to create his funny, bizzare, and incredibly engaging world.
Read it--perferably, with a glass of wine (or something stronger) at your side. You will laugh, chortle, be shocked, and be amazed. Rarely had a better novel been written.
84 of 97 people found the following review helpful
on August 6, 2007
Ever since I discovered Thomas Pynchon, in college in 1982, I have fought the battle between the two camps on this book ("greatest ever written" vs. "fraud") on the side of Pynchon, where I still stand today. Many of my friends, having heard me talk about this novel, have attempted it and given up. Not necessarily because of its difficulty, but more because of what they want in a book, or don't want, or because they were not interested in what Gravity's Rainbow does, offers, and succeeds at. I don't disparage anyone who does not like Pynchon, but you must conceed the notion that just because you don't like something doesn't mean it is bad. I can't stand rap music, but I would never tell anyone it has no validity for them, and I freely admit that I don't know what makes rap good. Therefore, we all need to be careful in judging Pynchon, and especially Gravity's Rainbow as bad when we just don't like it. For those it speaks to, it has no peer.
As a fiction writer myself, this book first served as an inspiration to me. Few writers since Shakespeare have Pynchon's vocabulary and word craftsmanship. He can write a sentence that you can read over and over and marvel at in its genius. Put a lot of those sentences together and you get a tome of genius. The most important moment for me when reading this novel for the first time was when I was reading along, and I stopped and actually said to myself "wow, I didn't know a novel could do that." This declaration was repeated many times before I reached the end, and it is that amazing realization that makes this novel so great, and so important to human letters. Even the naysayers, those who attempt to find flaw with this novel, those who hate it and find it unreadable, would be unable to point to another novel like it. No other novel takes you where Gravity's Rainbow does, no other novel challenges you in the way this one does. For me, a challenge is what makes a novel special. I don't mean a challenge to understand it, but a challenge to imagine the world it describes. A challenge to look into yourself and find the things that this novel thrives on, and the challenge of letting your mind float across language that the brilliance of which could not have been imagined before you read it. Gravity's Rainbow takes you to places and inspires thoughts that no other novels do.
Now, that being said, let's have a caveat. Gravity's Rainbow was written by a man with a wide range of knowledge, a large vocabulary, and a prodigious thought process. You'll need a dictionary close at hand and you should use it without shame. You might want to read one of Pynchon's shorter books to work your way up to this one, just to get the feel of how he operates. Lots of players spend time in the minors before they are ready for the major leagues. When I first read this novel I had read V and The Crying of Lot 49 before attempting it. I also had a literature class in which we discussed Pynchon and his themes (paranoia, conspiracy, what lies beneath the surface) Most of all, don't take anyone's word for anything about this book. Just read it and let the words do their work. Make of it whatever you want, and if you don't like what's happening to you as you read it, just stop. You're no less a person, no less a reader, no less an intellectual, it just wasn't for you, and this novel is not for everyone. That's one comforting thing about it, it makes no bones about the fact that it just isn't for everyone. Few things of quality are. For me this has always been the greatest novel I've ever read, but that may not be true for everyone. To those who tread the Pynchonian path and, like me, find a home there, I welcome you.
38 of 42 people found the following review helpful
on December 30, 2000
This book isn't something to amuse yourself during a thirteen hour flight to Japan. This book isn't something that you pick up at the supermarket checkout counter, nestled in between the latest Grisham thriller and the guide to One Thousand Healing Herbs. This isn't the book that you bring to the dentist's office while waiting for your daughter to be fitted for braces. This book, for lack of a better description, is an all-consuming juggernaut of a novel. This book reads like some bizarre hybrid of "Finnegan's Wake," Einstein's lecture notes, and William S. Burroughs in his most drug-addled of states. If you do not give it your undivided attention, this book will tear you to shreds. However, if you are genuinely interested in bettering yourself as a person, then look no further. "Gravity's Rainbow" is basically the story of the twentieth century, with all its ironies and idiosyncracies, compressed into a mere 750 pages. To summarize the plot (and I use the word "plot" loosely) would be an exercise in futility. To call it a "War Novel" would miss the point entirely, because Pynchon uses the destruction of World War II as a nothing more than a springboard from which he can detail the travesties of modern life and the twisted nature of history. Granted, it does delve into the grittiness and decay of World War II, but it deals equally with sex, money, politics, and everything else that has tripped humankind up along the way. This book is like a blender: it takes all these facets of modern life and purees them into a hallucinatory nightmare of a novel. And then there's the language... It is impossible to speak of Pynchon without mentioning his fascination with words and language. "Gravity's Rainbow" has taken the dogma of the short story, stating that every word must be important, to the extreme. Every word IS important in this novel. You cannot skim this book. You cannot set it aside for a few days and effortlessly pick it up where you left off. Believe me, I tried (which is why it took me four, count them, four attempts to finish this book). You have to immerse yourself in its style, bathe in the language, in order to complete the daunting task of reading this book. This book is a word fetishist's wet dream. In short, if you're looking to be intellectually... not stimulated, for "stimulated" is too mild a word. If you're looking to be intellectually BLUDGEONED, then this book is worth it's weight in gold.
45 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on July 20, 2003
"Gravity's Rainbow" is definitely the most bizarre and challenging book I've ever read. One can't just sit down and read it; it demands the most concentration you'll ever have to muster to read a work of fiction (if you're going to try it, by all means get Steven Weisenburger's companion book). Pynchon's writing is at times like a prose-poem told through a wandering camera lens; indeed, that's one facet of what the novel's about--the mediation of our consciousness by photography and cinema. At other times it seems like a mad sloppy party between an "underground" history book and a Warner Bros. cartoon, or a pornographic physics textbook (a la Burroughs). Stylistically, Pynchon is the most brilliant digresser you'll ever encounter. His technique of using ellipses and multiple clauses and constantly interrupting himself succeeds in capturing the multiple dimensions of whatever he is trying to describe. And all of it is couched in an American voice which directly winks at the reader, as if the cogs are showing, yet it is a very serious book (all benzene-ring jokes aside)...This book seems "pre-deconstructed", which is sure to confound literary critics in their quest for any final interpretation (another of Pynchon's apparent goals--although all his works have created a cottage industry of scholarship).
Poor Tyrone Slothrop! Thirty years after being rented to a chemist for experiments as a baby, it's discovered that wherever he makes a bird in wartime London, a V-2 rocket hits that spot minutes later--a weapon which happens to contain the same material the evil Laszlo Jampf used in his Pavlovian experiments on him. And even now, while a lieutenant in the US Army, he still has to suffer truth-serum and post-hypnotic suggestion sessions by his psychological "handlers". And battle hypnotized octopi. And Dutch women. And deal with the long fingers of the I.G. Farben-G.E. nexus whose fingerprints he finds at every turn in his quest to discover the mysterious cargo of the V-00000 rocket...Every character in the book--except Slothrop himself--seems to know what happened to him as the famous Pavlovian Infant Tyrone, and that he may be the center of an ongoing experiment. Which makes "Gravity's Rainbow" a tragedy and a farce at the same time. Slothrop's is the epic journey of self-discovery. He is seeking solace in symmetry, or a reality beyond Their control, beyond Their systems but where can you find that in war-torn Europe? Something strange about this epic World War II novel is that the death camps and Nazi ideology are hardly mentioned in Pynchon's 760 pages. He's trying to get at something which, I take it, he finds even uglier: a matrix of supposedly "neutral" technologies and the attitudes constituted by them which are the grounds for the possibility of the "banality of evil". "Gravity's Rainbow" explores the collision between mythology and technology. Our imaginations are compelled to re-assemble the pieces of the scientifically parceled world, and Pynchon's take is that it goes into default setting: paranoia and skepticism towards absolutely everything. "We have no home," hence his running theme of the preterite and those "who are passed over" and the many refugees and diasporas presented in the novel. A key to the whole thing is that the book's narrative structure completely fragments on August 6, 1945, when hell was unleashed on Hiroshima by the U.S. government and its mil-indus-com subsidiaries. After this, Slothrop becomes a specter of the Quest, the person who lives on in our memory only as readers, when the book turns into vignettes which parody of how media "remember" the events of history.
And beware: The entire canvas has the signature of chemical-induced all over it (supposedly, Pynchon wrote it Kerouac-style on long sheets of engineer's scroll in spartan apartments in California and Mexico). Really--if one needs a gentle reminder as to what several hits of hashish could do to one's noggin, pick up this book stone cold and read several pages.
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 30, 2001
There are those that consider "Gravity's Rainbow" the greatest American novel of this, or perhaps any, century. I can't make a case for or against this; I haven't read 'em all. However, I will say that "Gravity's Rainbow" is good enough to at least deserve some of the lavish praise its earned. I get the feeling though that some people praise the book just to appear intelligent, just like some people criticize the book just to appear intelligent and unpretentious. However, let me just say that if a book is no more to you than a means of wearing a mask (on the internet for that matter), then you probably did not appreciate it for what it is. So what is "Gravity's Rainbow?" Well, it IS difficult. But unreadable? No. It is encylopedic. But dull and boring? Not in the least! "Gravity's Rainbow" is, if anything, an enormous collection of brainstorms, daydreams, and nightmares of one of the most incredible imaginations of our time. Most of it seems to me to be Pynchon writing to entertain Pynchon. Episodes like the ones with the giant adenoid, the Kenosha Kid, and, of course, Byron the Bulb, are as funny and fun to read as anything written this century. Yes, "Gravity's Rainbow" is extremely deep. But it sure is fun too.
Let me just recommend, however, that you read something else of Pynchon's before tackling this work. I recommend reading 'em in order.