Thomas Pynchon

Silent witness

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With his first book in nine years, secretive Thomas Pynchon returns with yet another thousand page novel. Brian Donaldson presents a bluffers guide.

T is for Tinasky Wanda Tinasky was a bag lady living under a bridge in Northern California who wrote witty correspondence to a local paper during the 1980s. Rumour was rife that Thomas Pynchon was behind the letters, but more prominence has been given to the theory that the perpetrator was a poet called Tom Hawkins. The last letter appeared in 1988 round about the time that Hawkins murdered his wife before driving their car off a cliff.

H is for Homer Not afraid to laugh at himself, Pynchon has appeared in The Simpsons on several occasions, with a bag over his head. The most recent appearance came in September, which some read as an obscure publicity campaign for his new novel.

O is for Oyster Bay The name of the Long Island school where Pynchon was educated. Billy Joel and John McEnroe also grew up in the area.

M is for Mason & Dixon His most critically acclaimed work about a pair of real-life astronomers crams in topics such as alien abduction, robots, slavery and feng shui.

A is for Against the Day It’s 1085 pages long.

S is for Salinger One of the most intriguing rumours about Pynchon’s identity is that he is JD Salinger, the author who withdrew himself from public life after the notorious success of Catcher in the Rye. ‘Not bad. Keep trying,’ was Pynchon’s response to the link. So determined has Pynchon been to remain out of the spotlight that he once leapt from a hotel window in Mexico City to escape a photographer.

P is for Professor Irwin Corey In 1974, this little-known stand-up comedian picked up the National Book Award on Pynchon’s behalf. During the rambling speech that followed, a streaker ran across the hall. Was Corey in fact Pynchon? Possibly not. Perhaps the craziest theory is that he was the Unabomber, a notion which promptly ended when they caught the guy.

Y is for Yann Martel According to Amazon, ‘a perfect partner’ for Against the Day is Life of Pi.

N is for Nabokov The legendary writer was one of his lecturers at Cornell University. Word is that Pynchon struggled to understand his thick Russian accent.

C is for Cornell The aforementioned establishment where he gained an English degree. Fellow alumni include Toni Morrison, Christopher Reeve and Huey Lewis.

H is for Heretics Another of his long silences was broken in a 1989 New York Times article in which he gave thanks to the fatwaed Salman Rushdie for ‘recalling our duty as heretics.’

O is for Orwell In 2003, Pynchon emerged from his bunker to write an introduction to a shiny new version of 1984. For literary theorist Aaron S Rosenfeld, this seemed a perfectly apt occasion for Pynchon to re-emerge as ‘Orwell laid the groundwork for his sense of paranoia’s possibilities.’

N is for Names Among his more flamboyantly titled characters are Pig Bodine, Bongo-Shaftsbury and McClintic Sphere.

Against the Day is out now published by Jonathan Cape.

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