Against The Day - Thomas Pynchon

This book was recommended to me by a friend who likes his books to be (and this description is woefully inadequate) 'British'. He enjoys books such as Three Men In A Boat (which I'll admit I haven't got around to reading yet) and others in that particular style of writing ('Tally ho!' etc.). I'm not too enthused about the genre, but when he told me the nature of the narrative used by Pynchon I decided to give it a go.

Before I start the actual review, let me describe what my friend told me. He said that we'd meet a character in the book, and follow them for a while. Then the protagonist would meet a different character, and we'd follow them. This intrigued me because I liked the idea of abandoning a group of characters to follow a lone protagonist, and then another one, weaving through the book until the end.

Unfortunately I didn't get that far. This book is HUGE (1,085 pages) and in order to read something of that magnitude I need to be really interested in what's going on. It seems that (like Mervyn Peake) Pynchon has subscribed to the belief that if you can say something in a paragraph, why not take three or more pages to say the same thing? We start off with a group of characters who are not particularly memorable the 'Chums of Chance' who fly around in the wartime equivalent of a hot air balloon and have adventures which are only alluded to in the first few chapters. Then we meet some more people, and some more, and some more ... ad nauseam.

By the time I got to the second chapter I had forgotten who everyone was and had to go back to the start. Another failing of the book is that (according to Wikipedia), a lot of the characters just 'bugger off' halfway through the book and are never seen again.

Apparently I'm not alone in my opinion of Against The Day:

"Of course, there are a zillion other things going on in Against the Day, but the Traverse-family revenge drama is the only one that resembles a plot [...] that is, in Aristotle’s helpful definition, an action that has a beginning, a middle, and an end. The rest of the novel is shapeless [...]" - Louis Menand - New Yorker

Some say that you tough it out, the book gets better - but quite frankly I've got more interesting things to do with my time.

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