Forget what you've heard about Pynchon...this one *is* readable......

Patrick Down on Tue 16 May 2000
Thomas Pynchon enjoys a sort of cult credibility, having written such supposed sprawling masterpieces of twentieth century American Fiction as V and Gravity's Rainbow. One is forced to wonder whether many of his supposed admirers have actually taken the trouble to read his books though. These giant tomes are vast, complicated, and by and large plotless. It seems that much of Pynchon's current credibility may come from the pop world (Cobain stole Pynchon's line 'We are stupid and contagious, here we are now entertain us' in writing arguably the definitive single of the nineties. Radiohead named thir fanclub after a shadowy organisation in The Crying of Lot 49, and Timothy Leary was also known to be a fan.)

It comes as some relief, therefore, that the Crying of Lot 49 is only 150 pages long, and what is more, even appears to have a plot of sorts. Oedipa Maas (Pynchon's love of implausibly named characters is evident here...Ms Mass is joined by her husband, Mucho Maas and her shrink, Dr Hilarius, amongst others) wakes one morning to discover that she is to be the executrix of the estate of her dead former lover Pierce Inverarity.

What follows is that she gets drawn deeper and deeper into an apparent conspiracy going back to the founding of the USA over three hundred years ago. What with the drugs she is being prescribed, and her sleeplessness though, it becomes impossible to tell whether the conspiracy is genuine or exists only in her head.

Pynchon's strength was always his written style, the way he is able to describe the most mundane of events in a way that captivates the reader...his refusal to fall back on cliche or commonly abused metaphor. What makes this book worth reading is that here this talent is melded to a real story. Its a style and a plot which William Gibson shamelessly copied in his critically acclaimed, but infinitely inferior 'Neuromancer'.

Rating: 8.0

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