A few days ago I finished Thomas Pynchon’s ‘Gravity’s Rainbow’. I bought it last year with some of my birthday money so was pretty glad I managed to read it in just under twelve months, including two months off while I put a new radio show together. This wasn’t because I didn’t have the time but because there were already loads of Pynchon references creeping into the new radio program already. But hey, The Simpsons have used Pynchon gags a number of times so am sure BBC Scotland will love them too.
So what’s it about? Gravity’s Rainbow starts off in London during the final couple of years of World War II and follows U.S. serviceman Tyrone Slothrop as he fucks his way around London. However, he is also being secretly monitored by statisticians, Pavolvian behavouralists and psychics at ‘The White Visitation’ as there is a corresponding pattern to the locations where Slothrop fucks and German rocket strikes falling on London. Psychic Presient Pumping with Poisson Distributions (not to be misread as handing out chicken).
Slothrop is then sent on a mission to Europe to discover the S-Gerat (or “black device”) which is made out of an unknown substance called Imiploex G and is the vital component to the new German rocket 00000. And that’s pretty much where any semblance to traditional narrative goes flying out the window with the speed of a Von Braun creation as we are led on an adventure that defies description, logic or morals. So pretty much like war itself then.
What then entails is a delirious, brain-burstingly imaginative, sexually deviant, screaming, singing plunge towards death involving references to weapon technology, a psychic octopus, a sentient light-bulb, King Kong, coprophillia, the films of Fritz Lang, sadomasichism, Ouspensky, The Pheobus Cartel and Nazi mysticism. Amongst countless others. It’s also funny as hell. It was also one of the those books where I would have to put it down every few minutes or so and just shake my head in wonder at what I had just read. Pynchon’s sentences are a thing of beauty and I love them.
It really is a spectacular book. It’s like a cross between Robert Anton Wilson, Phillip K Dick, James Joyce and god knows what as the most striking aspect of Gravity’s Rainbow is just how uncompromisingly and stridently unique it is.
It also reminded me why I read books and don’t use a kindle. For the last twelve months I have held this 900 page book in my hands, feeling the weight from my right hand transfer to my left (the sisnter! The force of narrative gravity pulling weightless ideas towards it). Even after I finished the book I was still picking it up. It just felt weird not having it in my hand anymore. It felt like I had a limb missing. I love the physical love affair we have with novels. The tactile nature and the feeling of the physical weight of ideas.
I will miss Gravity’s Rainbow immensely. I will miss Slothrop, Prentice, Roger Mexico, Pointsman, Captain Blicero, Laszlo Jamf and around 400 other characters.
But hey, I guess that’s what it’s all about. The inevitability of extinction. We are all the rocket, fired from starting point zero and leading, ultimately, beyond the zero. But as gravity falls it leaves behind an illusion, a wake of colours… and that illusion is us. We are the rainbow created as the Universe returns to the zero point… but with enough style to end on a song.