July 01, 2005

Neal Stephenson

Kieran Healy is thinking of ditching Cryptonomicon 100 pages in. If you must, you must--like commenter 10 I enjoyed the heck out of it, read the last 600 pages or so in one big gulp, but if you're not enjoying it reading it certainly won't make you a better person.

What I really wanted to remark was Henry Farrell's first comment:

"Quicksilver" and "The Confusion" are pretty well all authorial digression Ė they donít work as novels, but they do work as something else (Annaliste fiction???). "The System of the World" is a bit of a mess.

I just don't understand the move from "all authorial digression" to "don't really work as novels." I mean, what is a novel supposed to be if not all authorial digression?

If I may quote Me on a couple of much better books:

I was unable to get very far into At Swim-Two Birds the first time I read it. The next time I read it pretty much straight through.
The trick is: You know how Moby-Dick is full of bullshitty little bits that your high-school edition cut out, and how those were the best part? @Sw2B is entirely bullshitty little bits. Read it in that frame of mind and you will enjoy.
But you might want to start with The Third Policeman first, which has a plot and is a little easier to read but equally delightful. This excerpt may give you a flavor of the non-plot parts. You should probably be thankful that I am not in a position to call you up and read you the entire part about "I still think there is an electric lift," 'cause I probably would.

(Henry is right though--System of the World is a bit of a mess. I don't know exactly why--I think I never recovered from my disappointment when it started with an authorial summary of twenty years--seemed like cheating--and by the end the baroque ways of putting the villains to death began to disturb me.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at July 1, 2005 04:27 PM

"I mean, what is a novel supposed to be if not all authorial digression?"

Amen. I liked Cryptonomicon. I found Quicksilver too slow. Really like The Confusion. Just starting the System of the World.

Henry: check out Tristram Shandy or other triumphs of the novel, all but really *all* digression.

-- Kai.

Posted by: Kai von Fintel at July 1, 2005 05:44 PM

Commenter 44/57 on the CT thread makes the analogy to Shandy, and to Swift with his "Digression in Praise of Digressions." I actually have only read the first 50 pages or so of Shandy, which brings me a lot of condemnation from my blog-buddies. The Baroque Cycle is sort of the beach-reading version of the multiple-digression novel, I guess.

(I forgot to mention that the academic satire in Cryptonomicon bugged me, but it doesn't take up much space.)

Posted by: Matt Weiner at July 2, 2005 10:42 AM

I was going to mention Tristram, but I see someone beat me to it.

Posted by: bitchphd at July 2, 2005 03:50 PM