And my Pynchon review from Time Out
AGAINST THE DAY by Thomas Pynchon (Cape 1085 pp £20.00)
reviewed by Roz Kaveney
Reviewing a Thomas Pynchon novel is like sending despatches from a war zone or a mathematician's mind. Something important is going on and we don't know what it is; a process of understanding will go on everytime we half-remember bits of the book over the decades. Just like the Tristero, we say about some financial conspiracy, or just like Rocketman, and fragments of his books float to the surface of our mind, and we yearn and vow to read the books again, and the mixture of memory and anticipation and concepts starting to cohere makes us smile.
AGAINST THE DAY takes us back to one of Pynchon's obsessions, the sense that the disaster of the Twentieth Century both had to happen and might have been averted. In the obscurer corners of the book, time-travellers endeavour to stop the First World War, just as in others secret agents and occultists at once try to keep the peace and make the worst things inevitable. This is, of Pynchon's books, the one most clearly in a dialogue with science fiction - giant airships float in its skies and plunge through a hollow earth - as well as with the thriller of intelligence, paranoia and conspiracy.
It is also a book about what went wrong with the idea of America, with an evil capitalist at its core planning to break the working class, and the children of a dead anarchist dynamiter and union organizer variously caught up in his schemes. One of the differences between the early brilliant Pynchon and the more thoughtful later books is his growing feel for the way landscape is destiny - this is a book about badlands, both in the Balkans and the Old West, and how in a sense the War, and Capitalism, and the Tunguska meteorite, all tore into lives and left gorges and ravines and desert, with a few patches of human solidarity and natural beauty in which we can survive. We love those moments of repose, because they get earned: Pynchon is the great modernist writer who most flirts with, but avoids, the sentimental.
The thing about Time Out in particular is that I have to write these compressed reviews to a 350 word slot and actually I sometimes get to say some worthwhile things by having to be terse.