Book review: Inherent Vice

Inherent ViceInherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Soon to be a film – something I suspected I’d never hear in relation to a Pynchon work – Inherent Vice is a druggy, super-California mess that’s somehow super-endearing. It’s Pynchon’s version of a noir potboiler, seen through the tinfoil hat of paranoia which accompanies most of his other work.

The Crying of Lot 49 was my introduction to the writer’s what-the-fuck-is-going-on? style of writing, and I’m happy to say Inherent Vice is another in the same vein. It’s shorter than Gravity’s Rainbow but feels as large. Like most of Pynchon’s work there’s a lot going on here. It’s a bit like sticking your head in a cannon loaded with cultural ephemera and conspiracy theories. Everywhere is a wealth of detail about the setting, about the music and films of the time, as well as catchphrases and clothing fine-points. There’s probably a lot more to it than I’m getting on first read, but since when hasn’t that been the case with Pynchon?

Then there’s the characters. Tax-dodge (?) dentists with drug connections? The Yakuza? Nazi-loving head-kickers with a taste for show-tunes? False afros? Baked lawyers finding the keys to life (and threatening class action against) The Wizard of Oz? Assorted crims, gumshoes, dicks, dupes and stoners? They’re all there. More to the point, the sort of acid-casualty babble which punctured Gravity’s Rainbow seems much more at home here.

Does it really all come together? No, not really. But then, Pynchon is a writer whose constructed world is always more interesting than such niceties as completed story. This was goofy and fun, a The Big Lebowski-style noir farce baked (and how!) in the California sun. It doesn’t make much sense, but just watch the passing parade of freaks.

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