Gravity's Rainbow, don't let me dissuade you. But be warned: You're in for a challenge.
I started the book two months ago after my post about That One, Ultimate To-Be-Read Book. And I'm only just now to about the halfway point -- 360 pages in. So, to understate a bit: It's been slow going. It's no real secret that Gravity's Rainbow is difficult, notoriously so -- up there with Ulysses on the list of most inaccessible novels ever written. But why?
I've read and thoroughly enjoyed other "difficult" novels, most notably Infinite Jest. But Gravity's Rainbow is in a class by itself. In Infinite Jest, the difficulty was mainly due to the fact that Wallace jumps around so frequently by scene and in time, that the reader gets easily disoriented. But that's part of the fun, and it's never hard to understand what's happening on a section-by-section basis. You can sort of sit back and enjoy the prose and worry later about how a section or anecdote or extended joke fits into the novel as a whole. Everything sorts itself out eventually.
On the other hand, Gravity's Rainbow makes Infinite Jest look like a Twilight book. Pynchon frequently digresses several times within a single scene, jumping back in time, relaying a very bizarre dream, or just simply spending a page or two in totally random description. I've got my guide book to help me -- it nicely summarizes each section and annotates Pynchon's obscure references (from German corporations to African history to Pavlovian conditioning). But as hard as I try, I often find myself drifting and glazing, only to "come to" half a page later and have no friggin' clue what he's talking about anymore.
The plot (and I use that term loosely) itself about an American serviceman in World War II who is schlepping around Europe near the war's end to try to find out why he becomes sexually aroused right before a V-2 rocket explodes. And that's the normal part of the book. I'm tellin' you, from drug-induced dreams where a character is flushed down the toilet to scenes involving sexual practices that would make Ron Jeremy blush, this is far-and-away the strangest, hardest, most glutton-for-punishment book I've ever read.
There are a few sections (and I mean ONLY a few) that are straightforward narratives where a character is being chased through an underground rocket lab or playing a drinking game with a British officer to try to bleed him for information. And those actually are a lot of fun to read, and often laugh-out-loud funny. They've kept me going. But the book, so far anyways, is just too hard to derive much pleasure. I've heard the fun of reading Pynchon is in the re-reading, and I have read through a few scenes from the beginning of the novel a second time, and they do make a lot more sense. But, reading the whole thing again? Whew - not sure about that. I'm definitely going to finish this first read, though, and when I do, maybe I will grab a Twilight book, just to wash my brain out!
So what is the most difficult book you've ever read? Why was it difficult? Did you finish?