Gravity’s Rainbow – Thomas Pynchon

[Contains Spoilers]

This isn’t going to be much of a review I’m afraid. You only need to do a quick Google search to see that countless readers/reviews (many with far greater minds than my own) have tried to write about Gravity’s Rainbow and discovered it’s next to impossible.

There’s just too much going on to try and summerise in a single page blog post.

I’d require half a bottle of whiskey and evening by the fire to try and explain my thoughts to even my best friends, and said friend would need to a be masochist of the highest order, to make it through such an evening with anything beyond polite interest.  

Technically it’s a spoiler, but to give you an idea of what I’m getting at, I’m going to list the suits of clothes that the principal character Slothrop wears, while he’s bumbling around war-ravaged Europe in the months immediately after the end of World War Two – technically this would count as a spoiler…

An American Army Officers Uniform; a British Officers Uniform; a Russian Officers Uniform (with and without insignia); a Tuxedo; a Zoot Suit; a Pig Costume; a  Rocket suit (complete with cape)…

And the rest of the time, he’s wearing a random assortment of clothing that he just happens across in an equally random succession of homes, which more often than not he’s visiting to have sex with the (indiscriminately random) occupants.  

So, to any and all Gravity’s Rainbow virgins; would you care to guess at the nature of the plot?

It’s sheer madness in a lot of places. Total, unapologetic insanity and, as a reader, it’s all you can do to keep your head in the story, accepting that you’re just along for the ride, and that there really isn’t any coherent destination in mind.

This is my second time reading Pynchon’s Rainbow (I also abandoned it once – when I was far too inexperienced a reader to have had any hope of following what was going on), and I really enjoyed it.

I’ve a real passion for deep-black/dark comedies that make you think, and that’s precisely what you get from Thomas Pynchon. And, Believe me, this is the most Pynchon of all Pynchon novels (I’ve read, or re-read, six this last year).

 If I were to draw up a sliding scale, with slightly unusual on one end (see Bleeding Edge) and, completely unhinged from all conventional reality, at the other; well, Gravity’s Rainbow is right off the deep end.

The first time I read the book I didn’t have a Smart-Phone, and actually bought myself a pocket German-to-English dictionary, just so I could keep in touch with the developing plot points (that I mistakenly felt were hidden within the German text).

This time around, I used Google-translate throughout and kept imagining what the reading experience would’ve been like back on the 1970s (when Gravity’s Rainbow was winning awards).

In addition to varying languages, there are so many references that go entirely unexplained. Page after page just feels like one big f**k you; as though Pynchon was sitting at his typewriter still, laughing at your expense… but it’s just the way the man (genius) writes.

The only way I can think to describe his writing style is: inimitable.

Honestly, I have no idea if Gravity’s Rainbow qualifies as a good book. I’m totally biased, I love Thomas Pynchon – but I know I haven’t always felt this way

I remember being angry and frustrated with his writing; found it pointless and without plot; nowhere near as funny as I was led to believe.

But that was about 600/700 books ago now, and my reading tastes have matured (at least I believe so), as has my understanding of the art behind writing (again, as I flatter myself to believe).

With the benefit of hindsight, my mistake was in trying to read Gravity’s Rainbow as my first Pynchon (the time I abandoned reading it when I was 23ish) and should have built up to it, reading his more accessible novels first.

Would I recommend reading Gravity’s Rainbow? – I don’t know how to answer that question.

My feeling is that the sort of reader/mind that is going choose to read this novel will do so with their eyes open. I doubt any words of wisdom from me will motivate them (you), and I think my role, as a reviewer, should be more as a cautionary voice.

Reading Gravity’s Rainbow, and dedicating the serious time and effort it takes to do the novel justice, would challenge anyone; I can only hope that you all enjoy it as much as I did.

[I actually finished my re-read a couple of weeks back, and have been trying to think another (non-Pynchon book) that is of a similar style and quality – Joseph Heller’s ‘Catch-22’ is about as close as I can get from memory.

If you’re unsure whether GR is the book for you, I’d certainly recommend that you read Catch-22 instead. It’s just easier to follow.

As I mentioned though, if you’ve decided to read GR, you’re probably full-sure it’s the book for you, and I can only hope you love it.

I always say this, but if you have any thoughts on Gravity’s Rainbow, I’d love to hear them. I’ve no doubt missed a lot, because it’s one of those books. I’m on Twitter @LCross137, or you can email me at]

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