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Thomas Pynchon – Inherent ViceAnd now, a few words on Inherent Vice, the latest book by Thomas Pynchon, the best writer in the world. Yes, I am biased ;-)
'Latest' is also slightly misleading here – yes it's correct, he hasn't written (or at least announced) another book since Inherent Vice. The fact that I've been savouring my proof copy (thanks to the publisher for that!) in small instalments since August 2009 is neither here nor there, of course...

Larry Sportello, Doc to his friends (and almost anybody else, too) is a PI living and working around Gordita Beach, LA (a thinly disguised Manhattan Beach, apparently). It's the time of Hippies, Surfers, Free Love, ubiquitous Marijuana (especially for Doc), and post-Manson paranoia.
When he has a visit, nah, visitation from Shasta Fay Hepworth, aspiring Hollywood Actress and his ex-girlfried, with a request to look into a plot of the wife (and her lover) to abduct (amongst other things) her new boyfriend, the Real Estate Tycoon Mickey Wolfman a convoluted chain of events is set into motion which ends with – no, that would be telling. And you don't need to know to enjoy this book...

Under way we encounter many interesting characters and concepts, as one would expect from a Pynchon story. Let's just mention The Golden Fang – a mysterious schooner (smuggling drugs? counterfeit Dollars with Nixon's portrait?), a Heroin Cartel, a Dentists Tax Dodge, or maybe all of this? Or even something else, entirely more sinister?
Pynchon also makes, yet again, a lot of use of music, especially Surf Music and its associated styles. It is used as a setting, to drive the story, and to illustrate specific points and moods. Lots of lyrics get quoted, with both the songs and the artists sometimes made up, sometimes real.

Inherent Vice is Pynchon's 7th Fiction Novel; he has also written some non-fiction, plus we have a collection of his older short stories (Slow Learner). Very little is known of him since his graduation, including his exact whereabouts, or how he looks...
The book at hand is one helluva road trip of a whodunnit ('scuse my French), with characters overdrawn like they're blurring round the edges during a drug high (though rarely if ever clichéd), with the book following them through their convoluted world in wide-eyed, child-like wonder. The plot features, under the surface, loads of sub-plots, conspiracies, wheels within wheels. Doc refuses to be drawn into this,to become paranoid, at least for most parts; and keeps playing things straight, at least as straight as a constant doper can...   
Doc Sportello frequently reminded me of Douglas Adam's detective Dirk Gently, who also doesn't go where he should, but goes where he needs to be instead.

For a Pynchon book this has a fairly simple structure, and a limited cast – for once I got away without a page of notes and diagrams of plots, characters, and connections. This is both a good and a not so good thing, of course. I greatly love the Pynchon books with epic scope and story structures, like Gravity's Rainbow or Against the Day; this is, in comparison, a simpler beast, but obviously is also easier to read due to this. Maybe not his best or most complex work, and for me, at least in structure, closer to Vineland (it plays earlier, though) than to the 'big' stories.

Don't expect me to come up with a recommendation beyond 'go get it, get his other books, read and enjoy', ok? Great stuff, in my opinion.



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Title: Inherent Vice
Author: Thomas Pynchon
Reviewer: Markus Thierstein
Reviewer URL: http://thierstein.net
Publisher:  Jonathan Cape/Random House
Publisher URL: http://www.randomhouse.co.uk
Publication Date: Aug 2009
Review Date: 110313
ISBN: 9780224089487
Price: UKP 18.99
Author URL: http://www.thomaspynchon.com
Pages: 369
Format: Paperback (proof)
Topic: Speculative Fiction
Topic: Alternate History

 

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