"It takes, unhappily, no more than a desk and writing supplies to turn any room into a
confessional. This may have nothing to do with acts we have committed, or the humours we do go
in and out of. It may be only the room- a cube- having no persuasive power of its own. The
room simply is. To occupy it, and find a metaphor there for memory, is our own fault...no
apologia is any more than a romance- half a fiction...so we do sell our souls : paying them
away to history in little installments. It isn't so much to pay for eyes clear enough to see
past the fiction of continuity, the fiction of cause and effect, the fiction of a humanized
History endowed with Reason." (Thomas Pynchon, V., p.224-226)
The events of this novel (which in some way serves as a prelude to Gravity's Rainbow
) overlap into a story about the secretive sphere of international relations
, Chinese-box complexity of alternative history, inhumanity of colonialism
and, of course, how to hunt albino alligators
in the sewers of NYC. The novel's structure is actually quite similar to Neal Stephenson
, insofar as two plotlines, one historical and one contemporaneous are unfolding alternately, yet the same families are involved. Herbert Stencil
, the novel's protagonist living in NYC, c. 1957 is increasingly tired and bored of Manhattan finery and city life. A series of strange events spur a sequence of memories and reflections for Stencil, and he soon begins to search for traces of his mysterious vanished father, an agent of the British Foreign Service
in the tense years leading up to the First World War
. Stencil finds in his father's diaries strange references to a woman named V. :
"Florence, April, 1899 . . . There is more behind and inside V. than any of us had suspected. Not who, but what: what is she . . . connected . . . with one of those grand conspiracies or foretastes of Armageddon..."
At this point the novel spirals back into that period, and Stencil's father is found undertaking a parallel search, for the mysterious woman known only as V.
As with most of Pynchon's narratives, it becomes increasingly difficult to separate the historical fact from his imagined fiction, or the paranoia
of his characters from the actual events happening around them. However, the story itself and dialogue are fantastically funny. Herbert's best advice, for example, come not from his friends (who are too drunk to be bothered with him) but an intelligent prototype crash test dummy. The elusive V., as Stencil's father discovers after tracking her trail to Malta, may or may not be some sort of automata
. As Rick Moody
(a fan of Pynchon) wrote, "The action of the novel goes as far afield as turn-of-the-century Egypt, southwest Africa during the First World War, and Malta after the Second World War...It is by turns hilarious, slow, and utterly mesmerizing."
Also see: A companion to V / by J. Kerry Grant. Athens, Ga. ; London : University of Georgia Press, c2001.