Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Inherent Vice by Thomas Pynchon

Jonathan Cape

California in the Sixties?
Flowers in the hair, a joint between the fingers, a wave under your board and Hendrix’s Hey Joe floating through the air.
Not quite. In this - well, historical novel, really - the LA police are deep in the heroin trade and have a hit man rubbing out union organisers and illegal immigrants. The Manson Family have just been caught for the Tate murders. Our private eye hero’s old girlfriend’s new rich squeeze has his wife putting out a contract on him.
What? What?
Dope fiend shamus Doc Sportello uses his stoner ESP to probe complex interlocking mysteries. Surfie band the Boards may be haunted by zombies. The Golden Fang may be a ship, a smack-dealing cartel or a tax dodge. Billionaire Micky Wolfmann may not have been kidnapped.
There’s a story in there?
Kind of. But this really doesn’t stick to the thriller structure - it wanders around, kinda toking on this philosophy and that and playing with words and images and concepts and… what was I saying?
Does it work as a thriller?
Hell, no. Every now and again something nasty happens, but it’s all in such a haze that you don’t really notice.
What characters inhabit this dark world?
El Drano (acronym for Leonard), who sells heroin - cut, one surmises, with America’s favourite toilet cleaner. Dirty cop Bigfoot Bjornsen. A sweet young family fighting to recover from addiction. Sixties tropes: an English moptop band (wink, wink); TVs with those giant remotes like a brick that buzzes in your hands.
Should I buy it?
Oh, definitely - Pynchon is the core literato, his Gravity’s Rainbow, V, etc must-reads. Just carrying this around and leaving it on cafe tables gives you instant street cred. But you should be wearing shades when you’re reading it, and endangering your health by at least smoking a mentholated.

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