I finished this book months ago, after taking months on it, between and while reading many other books. I have waffled on it. Listening to it began as pure elation. Then things bog down. A lot of the material is the egghead equivalent of celebrity name dropping; where a People Magazine will show you pics of this or that actress on a bad hair day, Pynchon throws out these somewhat obscure historical and mythical names: so as a reader you say "Oh my gosh its Esche's camels! And a Tassle Worm!" Or if you don't know of these things Pynchon seems very learned and brilliant and your head spins. But in this book I felt they just got tiresome, and they were all very shallow; nothing is added to your knowledge of Tassle Worms for example. There is something of a plot, though as usual in this author's books, the characters are more names and a general class of human (professor, gambler) rather than fleshed-out individuals you care for, though a few of the characters in this book I at least remember vaguely. Things bounce around take on an epic feel only because everything begins to feel epic when it goes on long enough. The end becomes quite excellent again and is a highlight. This is not as good as "Mason Dixon" or "Gravity's Rainbow" I think, but is a good book on the whole. A lot of it felt meandering and some of the sketches felt undeveloped. In some sections I wanted more and in some other places I could have done without the typical Pynchon bizarre graphic sex scenes. In general if you have not read Pynchon you will appreciate him if you ever sigh reading books thinking that everything is done too typically and wishing someone just did their own style- but his style is mostly the same book to book, so your second Pynchon will feel more like nostalgia than discovery. There are zany songs and silly names and complex math equations. This novel seemed to have no plan at times but on the whole I suppose I am enriched and the voice work is mostly spectacular.
Unlike other reviewers, I think plot is indispensable for good storytelling. Thus, I found this book frustrating. I listened, following along with the text, and consulting the websites where passionate fans chew on the intriguing set pieces that Pynchon offers. The many settings, characters, networks, and theories never cohere, and most of them never connect into any overall thematic or allegorical meaning. But there's lot of richly ambiguous symbolism, a sort of alchemical semiotic miasma using light, day, gold, silver, abstract math (fourth dimension, quaternions), and doublings (paired characters, worlds, realities). This book seems to be an attempt to tell a story set in the past that is emphatically non-historical insofar as history is defined as a grand narrative. There's no God-like narrator, no attempt to frame the individual stories within a larger sense of the historical moment. Instead, there's an unmasterable heap of details and small plots, similar to the way that life is really experienced. There's a lot of wacky humor, such as an opera entitled The Burgher King, a Middle Eastern assassin named Al Mar-Faud, dressed in English hunting tweeds and a shotgun, ("Gweetings, gentlemen, on this Glowious Twelfth!), and very little of the urgency and tragedy that I need in a novel of this length to keep me interested. I forced myself through this book because I'm interested in the ideas and in the potential of experimental postmodern narrative.
The narrator is stupendous, bringing this very difficult book to life with an astounding array of accents deployed consistently. He also pronounces the dozens of obscure and foreign phrases accurately, a remarkable feat. Most importantly, he achieves an understated tone of muted irony that perfectly matches that of Pynchon.
One of Pynchon's best with a great read from Dick Hill. Loved it. Just a brilliant work of fiction.
To address the negative reviews: if you tend to think of Nicholas Sparks or Dan Brown as great literature you may find this book a little confusing and off-putting. You'd be better off downloading the latest Sue Grafton or something of that ilk instead.
Outstanding. I have the unabridged transferred-from-cassette version of Gravity's Rainbow which is a magisterial tour de force, but this Audiobook is not far behind, I find the audio quality is mediocre, though, the voice fluctuating in volume as if wavering. Also, the breaks between parts is not seamless.
I would also recommend Ron McLarty's reading of Inherent Vice, which Audible seem to have ignored. That is a work of genius, both author and narrator.
Dick Hill makes every sentence count, and manages to find the right pitch for every occasion.
Quality Control Alert.
Thomas Pynchon and Dick Hill are a perfect combination of excellence. The problem is that the download was VERY messed up. Listener beware, if you end up with the same download of seven parts, most of them ten hours long--and I can't imagine why it would be different for me than someone else, though none of the reviews I read before purchasing mentioned this problem, which baffles me. I've listened to quite a few Audible audiobooks before and have never seen anything like this.
All of a sudden you are hearing what you heard several hours earlier, with no indication. At first I thought the player had bounced back on the progress bar, but when it happened again I was paying closer attention and knew it wasn't that. I bought the ebook so I could follow along to confirm and clarify. Sure enough: WTF?
For a long and somewhat challenging book with a lot of characters, it is especially difficult to follow when full of recording discontinuities; frustrating to try and find the proper place to pick up from, which, once I figured out the problem, turned out to be the beginning of the next downloaded section, thus, the story should only be fifty-something hours long, not over sixty.
I LOVE the audiobook otherwise. Too bad about the terrible engineering, but it should be easy to fix in post. Maybe Audible could give me the credit back for suffering through it, giving you a heads up, ands spelling this out for them.
NV, not NY
No doubt this is an amazing piece of work, but it's too long and complicated to easily follow on audio. The three stars aren't for the story, but for the story on audio. There are many charactors that come and go, and I could have used an atlas of characters (or a hard copy book) to be able to go back from time to time to get me back on track. Still the story is so creative and fantasic and well written that I continued to enjoy the book despite having become confused as to who was who many times. I'd suggest you listen to one of Pynchon's shorter books, and if you enjoy his style, buy this book in hard copy.
This book is well written (incredibly written really) but is equally hard to follow if you're not giving it your full attention. I get audio books to listen to as I'm walking or doing chores, so there are occasions were I'm not focused entirely on the book I'm listening too. Unfortunately with this book if you lose track of the story for even a moment it is incredibly hard to figure what you missed. This means a lot of going back which can be frustrating.
That being said I did love the parts that I knew what was going on. Characters are well written, colorful and varied. On that note, there are A LOT of characters. The book spans generations, and Pynchon jumps back and forth between different character arcs without warning, another reason it's hard to keep track of. huge variety of local all well described.
The narration was good, never really wow'd me but never detracted from the story either. He also kinda sounds like Stan Lee, which works better for some parts than others.
Obviously take my review with a grain of salt, I only made it through the first part and a half before I began to completely lose track of what was going on. May come back to it again when I've got the time to devote to it.
I ordered Against the Day because so much fuss is made about Thomas Pynchon. I now wonder more than ever why so much is made about his rambling style. I could not become interested in any of the characters, and just when a plot thread starts to appear, it is abandoned. I do admit he has a command of the English language and that he is creative with names and factoids. However, that was not enough to keep my interest. Listening to it made me long for James Joyce - I left Against the Day, which goes on for years, and returned to Ulysses, which in my mind, accomplishes more in a Bloomsday.
I've awaited an audibook from this author for some time although I was a little hesitant to embark on a novel 50+ hours long. The reviews on here didn't help either since they were posted a few days after the audio became available and were most likely from a fan or someone who wanted it to look good with 5 stars without having actually read the thing. I gave this book two hours of my time, but none of it was compelling. I kept asking myself why I was being thrown into this story and could find no justification for remaining interested after two hours. I understand this is not a typical novel, but I think a published book should grab you somewhere within the first two hours (or in print, by at least the second chapter). Still, I was let down. I am giving it two stars because I thought the narrator was wonderful. I would not warn against reading it, but I think this was definitely the wrong place to start with Pynchon
I would give the book itself 5 stars, but as an audiobook, it's a disaster. It's very hard to listen to this book because the reader overacts in the extreme. He sounds like a really bad amateur stage actor - relentlessly distracting, really ruining the book. Almost every sentence is "recited" in such a way that it sounds like he is ridiculing the book and the characters. There is no way to describe how terrible the reading is, the worst I have heard on an audible book (which are usually terrific, I must say). Where was the voice talent director during this recording??? It's painful.