I am currently reading my way through a long list of science fiction and fantasy titles. (http://www.npr.org/2011/08/07/138938145/science-fiction-and-fantasy-finalists if you are interested in the list).
“A screaming comes across the sky. . .” A few months after the Germans’ secret V-2 rocket bombs begin falling on London, British Intelligence discovers that a map of the city pinpointing the sexual conquests of one Lieutenant Tyrone Slothrop, U.S. Army, corresponds identically to a map showing the V-2 impact sites. The implications of this discovery will launch Slothrop on an amazing journey across war-torn Europe, fleeing an international cabal of military-industrial superpowers, in search of the mysterious Rocket 00000, through a wildly comic extravaganza that has been hailed in The New Republic as “the most profound and accomplished American novel since the end of World War II.”
POLONIUS: “What do you read, my lord?”
HAMLET: “Words, words, words.”
While reading Gravity’s Rainbow, I often felt like Hamlet. I am out of practice reading stream of consciousness narrative and had to struggle to find my footing.
The book alternately attracted and repelled me, which, as one of my reading friends pointed out, isn’t how gravity works at all. When I would get into the flow and get reading, whole evenings would disappear. But after I set down the book each evening, it was a struggle to pick it back up the next day.
It is densely written text. There is very little white space on the page and very few breaks in the text, so when I set myself a goal of reading 90-100 pages per evening, I had no idea what kind of commitment I was making. It can be done, but it leaves no time for other books (an unacceptable proposition in my life). I am accustomed to polishing off 200-300 pages in an evening so this was a shock to my system. I couldn’t have the radio on either—I had to keep my attention sharply focused on the page (although I did find Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach to be acceptable as background music). A lesson in humility—with Gravity’s Rainbow telling me, “Look what easy stuff you usually read. You really need to stretch yourself a bit more.” When I realized that I would never finish before the book was due back at the Public Library (and that some other brave soul had a hold on it), I turned that copy in and retrieved a copy from the University Library where I work. There was no way that I was willing to pay overdue fees on this one.
Things that I liked: there were some beautiful descriptions—storm clouds the colour of wet cement sticks in my mind—I’ve seen those and it’s a perfect match. I was rather fond of the octopus that Slothrop eventually discouraged by bashing it with a wine bottle. [In fact, this scene from Rainbow was referenced in the non-fiction book on squid that I recently read, causing me to squee with delight]. Additionally, I loved how many characters wandered in, out, and through the work—that sudden jolt of realization that I’d read about them earlier and then settling in to see what they’d do next.
I think I will have to mull over the whole worship of war & rockets aspect of the book, the fetishizing of the rocket. Absolutely no doubt that Gravity’s Rainbow gives the reader a lot to ponder.
Am I glad that I read it? I think the answer is yes. Mostly I am just grateful to be finished and to have more time to go back to reading some fluff for the summer. In retrospect, June/July was not the ideal time of year to attempt such a work.