‘The novel must, at some point, at least pretend it is willing to go steady with the reader’ – Ivyland by Miles Klee

Let’s play the Ivyland drinking game. What you do is, you search for a review of Ivyland online, and every time they mention Pynchon you have to take a drink. Pynchon’s shadow (drink) falls on Ivyland. Pynchon’s influence (drink) is, as I believe the Troggs suggested (though they might have been talking about something else, thinking about it) ‘all around’.

Which, depending on your thoughts on Pynchon, (drink) is either a good thing or a bad thing. Happily for me, we are talking here of the Pynchon (drink) of The Crying of Lot 49, not the Pynchon (drink) of, say, Mason & Dixon. The prose is thick but the book isn’t. Ivyland weighs in at under 250 pages. This sounds like an astoundingly ignorant observation but if your method is to try to push the methodology of the short story to the length of a novel, size does matter.

Ivyland is a broken, twisted novel. When it shines, it shines gloriously, but the reader does spend time trying to weave its splintered narrative into a whole, doing long division with plotlines when they should be concentrating on the story. It is not a novel for reading in five minute bursts. It demands your attention. Chapters are headed “Last Winter” “Thirteen Years Ago” “One Year Ago” “Last Summer”. Time flickers. Landscapes bend and shift as if seen through a trick mirror. People are moulded and remoulded, viewed through pharmaceutical and philosophical filters. Plotlines embrace each other in double helixes and stretch out to the horizon.

Ivyland is a good novel but, as with Pynchon (drink), I find myself thinking it would make a better collection of stories.

A fair proportion of the chapters of Ivyland would stand quite happily independent of the main narrative. They have a mystery and a shimmering version of reality that the short story can support easily. The novel though, perhaps, needs to be slightly more grounded than Ivyland is prepared to be. It needs to invest in the reader just as much as the reader invests in it. It cannot afford to flirt as brazenly as Ivyland does. The short story can play at being femme fatale, but the novel must, at some point, at least pretend it is willing to go steady with the reader. This is Ivyland’s only fault really, that it won’t commit.

I know that suggesting The Crying of Lot 49 is better than Gravity’s Rainbow because it is 600 pages shorter practically makes me Ernest Hemingway (or something equally ghastly) but…

I know that being even slightly negative about a book which features a joke about a clown practically makes me Virginia Woolf (or something equally ghastly) but…

Any Cop?: At times Ivyland is exhilarating, but its steadfastly postmodern stance would have played more comfortably over a series of smaller narrative threads.

 

Benjamin Judge

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