Honestly, it’s about time I get to writing a review to this book.
But first, a bit of background story!
When I graduated last winter, my parents gifted me with a stuffed bear wearing a toga and holding a degree. I named him William Pynchon, after the two most influential writers from my undergraduate degree: William Shakespeare, and Thomas Pynchon. Now anyone who knows me well enough knows that I live, breathe, and will probably also die, Shakespeare. I love his work and have acted in some of his plays in the past. But Thomas Pynchon?
“Who?” you might ask.
That was my exact reaction in the beginning of my third year.
I had no idea who the guy was. I’d never heard of his novels, much less read them. I didn’t even know how to spell his name. But our lecturer said that it was ‘recommended’ that we read his novella, even though we wouldn’t be tested on it at the end of the year. So I borrowed it from the library, and loved it so much that I immediately bought my own copy the minute I had enough money.
So, you might ask, what’s so great about this book?
Well, I’m glad you did!
This novel is perfect for everybody who has an inner conspiracy theorist. The novella’s protagonist, Oedipa Mass, is a woman who leads a pretty normal, white suburban life, until her ex-lover dies and names her the executor of his will. She’s never done this before, so she seeks guidance from a few people on how best to go about it. And in the process, Oedipa ends up embroiled in one of the most intricate conspiracy theories to engulf America. And it all has to do with the postal system.
Yes, you read that right. The postal system. How we send and receive letters, packages, parcels, pay checks, bills. Turns out, the system we know and use is all well and good, but there’s another system beneath that, a much more intricate and secret one. And Oedipa has found herself in the midst of all this.
The novella delves very neatly into a society that has recently discovered mental illnesses and is trying its best to combat them, while also adjusting to them. Oedipa is quite a nervous, paranoid person, and her husband is too. In fact, in the beginning, Oedipa is part of a clinical trial for a new kind of medication. The novella also uses this to play on our perception of happenings in the story as a whole. Has Oedipa really been dragged into this conspiracy theory? Or, is her ex-lover pranking her from beyond the grave? Or, did she just imagine the whole thing as an after-thought of her mental illness?
Sadly, we’ll never know. The book’s ending leaves us right at the edge of climax, and leaves us completely unsatisfied at that. I’m not saying it’s a bad ending, but there’s no closure. My lecturers themselves, after asking them, have never even arrived at a satisfactory conclusion themselves. One of them has gone so far as to say that he can never be sure if Oedipa was crazy, being played, or really in the midst of it all. But, and I (sort of) quote, “that was the point in the first place: to make you question everything.”
Well, Mr Pynchon, it definitely worked, because I can’t see a French horn on a postbox now without wanting to shiver and turn away.
Final rating: One of my fave books of all time. 5/5. Please read.
Quotes I Liked: