Not a cinch, a Pynch

The Crying of Lot 49 by Thomas Pynchon. (1966) French title: Vente à la criée du lot 49.

Pynchon_Lot_49I have all the symptoms of the book-to-be-abandoned illness. What are they? You glance at the book and you think about watching TV. You see the book on the table and you think about the next one you’ll read. You open the book and you don’t remember what you’ve read before. Normal, because you left days between now and the last time you opened it. You can’t remember the characters’ names or who is who. You look at the number of pages to read before you reach the next chapter and until the end. You sigh a lot. All this happened to me with The Crying of Lot 49.

In other words, Pynchon and I weren’t on reading terms. I never managed to enter into the plot, I was constantly distracted by details such as the names of the characters (Oedipa Maas, Mike Fallopian…), losing sight of the plot’s thread (I needed an Ariadne, not an Oedipa). I really tried to be interested in the mystery of the book but I couldn’t. Sometimes you just have to cut your losses and run.

Sorry to disappoint Pynchon’s fans, but I couldn’t make it. This writer was on the daunting list and on the daunting list it stays. Please leave comments and tell me what you thought about The Crying of Lot 49 if you have read it. I’m looking forward to reading your thoughts.

I’ll be back soon with a billet about Kosztolányi.

  1. July 30, 2014 at 10:03 pm

    I find Pynchon freakishly difficult. I’ve attempted Gravity’s Rainbow, but never made it to the end.
    (But, I do recommend his detective/surfer noir novel ‘Inherent Vice’, it’s much, much more accessible than anything else he’s written. :) ).

    • July 30, 2014 at 10:07 pm

      Thanks for your support :-) As we say in French, je me sens moins seule. (I feel less lonely – in my misery)
      I’ll see what the master of Noir, Guy, will say about Inherent Vice.

  2. July 31, 2014 at 1:31 am

    I’ve read this, and never gone back to Pynchon after – not perhaps because I didn’t enjoy it so much as the fact that it’s the only book of his under 500 pages. It was ok: some sort of masonic conspiracy by the US postal service, I seem to remember, but not that enthralling.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:11 pm

      I have to admit I also picked it because it’s short.
      So you weren’t convinced either.

  3. July 31, 2014 at 2:59 am

    Emma: I tried this author a couple of times, and never got past a few chapters. I just abandoned Ivanhoe and I’m telling myself I’ll return to it someday…

    • July 31, 2014 at 3:00 am

      I bought Inherent Vice, BTW, on some sort of closeout, paying attention to the title and content alone. Haven’t got to it yet.

      • July 31, 2014 at 10:12 pm

        Well I’ll be curious to read your review

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:12 pm

      OK, since we very often have the same opinion on books, I’m going to save time and not try this another time.

      PS: I’ve never been attracted to Ivanhoe either. Another sign

      • August 1, 2014 at 4:39 pm

        I don’t like giving up books, but sometimes you just have to…

        • August 1, 2014 at 6:06 pm

          My view, exactly

  4. July 31, 2014 at 8:48 am

    I haven’t read Pynchon as I, too, find the prospect somewhat daunting. I do have a copy of Inherent Vice on my shelf, though, as yet unread, and I’m encouraged by Tomcat’s comments on its accessibility. There’s a film version of Inherent Vice on the way, so I’m planning on giving the book a shot before the film hits our screens.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:13 pm

      Thanks Jacqui. I’ll read your review of Inherent Vice, I’m curious.

  5. July 31, 2014 at 10:19 am

    I liked Gravity’s Rainbow a great deal and have been meaning to re-read it but haven’t read anything else by him. I wonder if I would get along with his writing now. I’ve read him in my teens when nothing ever seemed daunting. I can’t say I like the choice of names you mention.
    I think it’s importnat to abandon a book when it just doesn’t work.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:15 pm

      Gravity’s Rainbow is maybe his most famous one but its size stops me.

  6. Brian Joseph
    July 31, 2014 at 1:32 pm

    I never this bit I read Gravity’s Rainbow.

    I loved it but I only was able to handle it with a companion book with detailed notes. I would have never been able to read it otherwise.

    I agree with Caroline. If a book does not work for you, there are plenty more out there.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:18 pm

      For me, needing a guidebook to read a contemporary novel is a no-go. It is interesting to have pointers for a book from another country or another century, to help with the context of the place and/or time.

      To me, needing a companion book for a contemporary novel means that the writer contructed an elaborated fortress for the knowledgeable and my democratic mind finds this insufferable. You shouldn’t need help to read a novel from your country and your time.

  7. July 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    The Crying of Lot 49 was the first Pynchon that I read, and remains my favourite. I particularly like the idea of the Trystero postal conspiracy. I know that many people do not like it, possibly because of the level of ambiguity, as to how much of the story is real, or imagined. There is no clear resolution at the end of the book. I’ve spent a lot of time reading Pynchon, and think his earlier books are the best. As above, Inherent Vice is an easier read. A film version, the first of a Pynchon book, is due out in the new year.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:24 pm

      I last until page 100 and something and I didn’t see any postal conspiration. Did I go postal and missed it?

      I was totally lost in the forest of details and the whole thing seemed preposterous. (in French we say “ça n’a ni queue ni tête”, literally, “it has no head or tail”, in other words, I don’t know by which end to catch it) and at the same time, I was under the impression I was reading a book by a writer who purposedly wanted to eliminate unworthy readers from his readership. Either you can decipher the references or you’re out. Oedipa’s mind is like a Greek frat house.

  8. July 31, 2014 at 9:33 pm

    I quite enjoyed this and “V” – although I haven’t in many years felt the urge to return to either, which perhaps tells its own story “Gravity’s Rainbow” I gave up on. I suppose my literary tastes and perceptions have become more conservative with age.

    • July 31, 2014 at 10:26 pm

      Perhaps I would have found it challenging or fun if I’d read it earlier. It didn’t make sense and failed to catch my attention. Perhaps I’ve become more conservative too. Vive Dezső Kosztolányi.

  9. August 1, 2014 at 4:51 pm

    What all novels could do with I reckon is a quick one-line/two-line reference look-up list (either at the start or the end of the book – it doesn’t matter which) of all the main characters in the story, very (very) briefly who they are and the page in the book where they first make their appearance in the story. I think that would help readers a lot.

    • August 1, 2014 at 6:05 pm

      In my opinion, if you need such a reference list, the writer didn’t do their job properly. You shouldn’t need this to understand a novel. For example, you don’t need it for In Search of Lost Time, even if you read books years apart.

  10. leroyhunter
    August 5, 2014 at 12:49 pm

    I liked this when I read it, but I gave up on Gravity’s Rainbow and I’m starting to wonder if I could really be bothered with Pynchon. I was given Mason & Dixon as a gift years ago and have never opened it. His recent books all blur together in my mind, just generally not sounding that interesting.

    • August 5, 2014 at 1:28 pm

      You too aren’t a fan. So where are the Pynchon fans?
      Who’s is readership? He seems too difficult to understand without a certain cultural background and all the commentors here aren’t that interested in him. (except for JD)

      I wanted to know what I’ve been missing but it remains a mystery.

  11. August 5, 2014 at 4:46 pm

    Here I am! I’m one of the Pynchon fans. I loved The Crying of Lot 49, and my review of it remains one of the ones I’m most fond of (it’s here – http://pechorinsjournal.wordpress.com/2009/10/26/thomas-pynchon-the-crying-of-lot-49/).

    This is the Pynchon I’d recommend trying if you haven’t read him, precisely because it’s short. If you don’t take to this then at least there’s not that much of it, if you don’t take to V you may be several hundred pages in before you give up which is an utter waste of time.

    So far I’ve only read this and V. I plan to read more, and the only reason I haven’t is the sheer size of them and my limited reading time. I do think you were right to bail. If a book doesn’t speak to you, it doesn’t speak to you. I don’t see much benefit in ploughing on just for the sake of it. I was hooked from the first sentence. Partly I just found it hugely funny, while at the same time quite despairing.

    Anyway, hope you liked the Kosztolányi more since I think I might have been one of those who recommended that one. I’ll read your billet shortly.

    • August 9, 2014 at 4:49 am

      I thought you’d read this one pre-blog and I forgot to check your blog. I’m going to read your review and try to understand what’s so great about this book.

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