• Against the Day

  • A Novel
  • By: Thomas Pynchon
  • Narrated by: Dick Hill
  • Length: 53 hrs and 32 mins
  • 3.8 out of 5 stars (426 ratings)

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Against the Day

By: Thomas Pynchon
Narrated by: Dick Hill
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Publisher's Summary

"Spanning the period between the Chicago World's Fair of 1893 and the years just after World War I, this novel moves from the labor troubles in Colorado to turn-of-the-century New York, to London and Gottingen, Venice and Vienna, the Balkans, Central Asia, Siberia at the time of the mysterious Tunguska Event, Mexico during the Revolution, postwar Paris, silent-era Hollywood, and one or two places not strictly speaking on the map at all.

"With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, and evil intent in high places. No reference to the present day is intended or should be inferred. The sizable cast of characters includes anarchists, balloonists, gamblers, corporate tycoons, drug enthusiasts, innocents and decadents, mathematicians, mad scientists, shamans, psychics, and stage magicians, spies, detectives, adventuresses, and hired guns. There are cameo appearances by Nikola Tesla, Bela Lugosi, and Groucho Marx.

"As an era of certainty comes crashing down around their ears and an unpredictable future commences, these folks are mostly just trying to pursue their lives. Sometimes they manage to catch up; sometimes it's their lives that pursue them.

"Meanwhile, the author is up to his usual business. Characters stop what they're doing to sing what are for the most part stupid songs. Strange sexual practices take place. Obscure languages are spoken, not always idiomatically. Contrary-to-the-fact occurrences occur. If it is not the world, it is what the world might be with a minor adjustment or two. According to some, this is one of the main purposes of fiction.

"Let the reader decide, let the reader beware. Good luck."
—Thomas Pynchon

©2006 Thomas Pynchon (P)2007 Tantor Media Inc.

Critic Reviews

"[Pynchon's] funniest and arguably his most accessible novel." (New York Times Book Review)
"Pynchon delivers a novel that matches his most influential work, Gravity's Rainbow...in complexity, humor, and insight, and surpasses it in emotional valence....A capacious, gritty, and tender epic." (Booklist)

What listeners say about Against the Day

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  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars
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    5 out of 5 stars

brilliant!

Against the Day is Thomas Pynchon's most recent and one of his most accessible and entertaining works. (Mason & Dixon and The Crying of Lot 49 are better books, imo, but this one is certainly a worthy addition to Pynchon's formidable oeuvre.) Dick Hill's reading makes it even better.

Taking place between 1893 and 1914 in Chicago at the Columbian Exposition and going from there to the globe, inside and out, the story involves a group of very fictional hot-air balloonists, western mines unionists and anarchists (terrorists?) and their families, tycoons and their goons, scientists, mathematicians and a whole menagerie of assorted characters some historical, some not.

The plot involves the children of slain anarchist Traverse Webb as they basically try to 1. avenge his death and 2. escape the clutches of the evil tycoon Scarsdale Vibe. Meanwhile, the Chums of Chance glide around observing from their balloon above. But that's a very, very simplified version of the intricate convolutions the plot of this encyclopedic novel takes.

The themes are the closing of the frontier and the onset of modern life, including the boom of technology and capitalist greed. Meanwhile, the common man is doomed to live under the oppression of totalitarian regimes willing to use militaristic force to ensure domination.

Different styles are used for different plots of the book varying from Dime Novel to American Western to erotica and spy novel. This is quite effective in maintaining interest throughout such a long book.

The narrator Dick Hill gives a bit of very appropriate energy and drama to the reading and although it took a few minutes to get used to the voice (as usual for me), it's obvious Hill knows and loves the material and his interpretation is "cracker-jack!" Good show!

58 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

mind-boggling

Quite an investment in time, but worth the effort in my judgement. I downloaded this book Jan 30th and didn't finish until June 8th! 53 hours and 38 mins later, I'm still a little confused on some of the plotlines. Nevertheless, the concepts I did understand are brilliant and the character names are like Dickens on steroids. Pynchon has a knack for presenting ideas or observations in a couple of pages that other authors would use to fill an entire book. The wit is very smart, all sorts of sly allusions to history and pop culture abound. Worth the effort for me but, as the WSJ and NYT said in their reviews, this book isn't for everyone. There were times when I thought it might not be for me either, but I persevered and am glad I did. The narrator was excellent, it's got to be quite a challenge to deal with this many characters, the sheer size and all of the mathematical terms, scientific jargon and strange locales.

32 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Quite good!

Hill does quite a good job with <i>Against the Day.</i> Easy to follow, nice leisurely pace, and a welcome variety of voices, never overdone, make this an enjoyable listen.

28 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Pynchon’s best yet!

The broadest and most joyous of this remarkable author's unique, sprawling, epic, poetic sagas. An absorbing, sometimes surreal and almost overwhelming miasma of fact, fiction and fantasy, set during the period of tumultuous advancement in thought and discovery between the 1890’s and 1920’s, and peripheral to the dark and foreboding “war to end all wars”. But even more so than his other masterful works – Gravity’s Rainbow, V, The Crying of Lot 49 – this is a positively decadent and ultimately joyous celebration of history, scientific delusion and fact, mysticism, social turmoil and evolution, love real and imagined, flight, time travel, light, energy and ultimately redemption and hope. Pitting industrial and political czars and goons, unionists, mathematicians, inventors, spiritualists, explorers, anarchists, visionaries, charlatans, airship travelers, transcendentalists - all of them basically regular folks like you and me - against and with each other. Dick Hill's narration, voicing, inflection and pace, at first seemingly quirky, are quickly found to be perfect for the material. Though some 52 hours long, it was increasingly absorbing, and ended most graciously, though I'm sorry it had to end at all. This is one for you, whoever you are.

22 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Excellent book, but minor quality issues

This is an excellent book, but not for everyone. Some other reviewers pointed out that they couldn't follow it, and, yes, Pynchon is hard to follow. I'm actually listening after reading the book (I read a couple of chapters then listen to the same parts.) With the strange character names, obscure ideas, and many twisted concepts, this is probably not a good choice for something to listen to in the car.

The narrator, however, turns this into a tour de force - his reading is inspired, and his wide variety of voices fits perfectly with the variegated characters.

The only issue I have is with the sound quality of the book. When listening on headphones, there is noticable distortion when the reader's voice gets louder than normal. I don't notice this on speakers, but it does detract slightly from the enjoyment of this book when I listen on my iPod. Also, there are a couple of points where you hear a voice saying "This is the end of CD X." Apparently, the file wasn't perfectly cleaned up when Audible put it up for sale. Finally, there is no cover art attached to the files - no big deal, but another minor quality issue.

15 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars

Stil Undecided; Uneven

I finished this book months ago, after taking months on it, between and while reading many other books. I have waffled on it. Listening to it began as pure elation. Then things bog down. A lot of the material is the egghead equivalent of celebrity name dropping; where a People Magazine will show you pics of this or that actress on a bad hair day, Pynchon throws out these somewhat obscure historical and mythical names: so as a reader you say "Oh my gosh its Esche's camels! And a Tassle Worm!" Or if you don't know of these things Pynchon seems very learned and brilliant and your head spins. But in this book I felt they just got tiresome, and they were all very shallow; nothing is added to your knowledge of Tassle Worms for example. There is something of a plot, though as usual in this author's books, the characters are more names and a general class of human (professor, gambler) rather than fleshed-out individuals you care for, though a few of the characters in this book I at least remember vaguely. Things bounce around take on an epic feel only because everything begins to feel epic when it goes on long enough. The end becomes quite excellent again and is a highlight. This is not as good as "Mason Dixon" or "Gravity's Rainbow" I think, but is a good book on the whole. A lot of it felt meandering and some of the sketches felt undeveloped. In some sections I wanted more and in some other places I could have done without the typical Pynchon bizarre graphic sex scenes. In general if you have not read Pynchon you will appreciate him if you ever sigh reading books thinking that everything is done too typically and wishing someone just did their own style- but his style is mostly the same book to book, so your second Pynchon will feel more like nostalgia than discovery. There are zany songs and silly names and complex math equations. This novel seemed to have no plan at times but on the whole I suppose I am enriched and the voice work is mostly spectacular.

13 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars

Best Pynchon Novel

Would you consider the audio edition of Against the Day to be better than the print version?

I have read several Pynchon novels before starting this audiobook, so I understood the scope of characters and grand, sweeping events I was in store for. What I *wasn't* ready for was Dick Hill's narration. I have been impressed with audiobook readers before--George Guidall on American Gods, Simon Vance on Wolf Hall, and Roy Dotrice on the Fire and Ice series, each outstanding in his own way handling a multitude of voices and complexity of langauge--but Dick Hill in Against the Day set a new standard which few others will ever reach. His handling of song lyrics, foreign languages, tricksy Pynchon prose mixing both high and low brow culture, and a cast of characters far too long to list here made a very difficult novel come to life and entertain in ways people can't imagine a Pynchon novel can even do. Dick Hill was essential to my enjoyment of this read/listen.

What other book might you compare Against the Day to and why?

Obviously it compares to Pynchon's other classics such as Gravity's Rainbow and Mason & Dixon. From the point of view of how it synthesizes so many different ideas from so many different cultural and scientific fields, it reminds me of Joyce's most challenging works: Ulysses and Finnegan's Wake. It also covered much of the same ground as Umberto Eco's recent Prague Cemetery, although it does so in a much more fulfilling and far reaching manner.

Which scene was your favorite?

Too many to count. It could be the many discussions of the cultural and political implications of fin de siecle science and math--aether and Riemann Functions for example. It could be the Chums of Chance, the perfect parody of pulp fiction of the early part of the 20th century (think Doc Savage for example). It could be the exploration of the political changes from the 1890's that lead up to the First World War. It might well be the masterful ways in which Pynchon mixes high brow and low brow culture. He'll move from discussing the Michaelson-Morley experiments in the speed of light moving through aether that helped set the groundwork for Einstein's Theory of Relativity to having a Arabic character named Al Mar-Faud who wears a hunting cap, carries a shot gun and loves to go hunting for "wabbits."

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

The Traverse boys, all with different points of view spend most of the novel hunting for the man who was responsible for ordering their father's death. They are as a whole perhaps the most human and fleshed out characters in all of Pynchon's work. Their whole story arc is very moving.

Any additional comments?

It's not an easy read/listen, but it's well worth the time. Enjoy the laughter even as you puzzle through the implications of some of the weightier issues and themes. Pynchon is a master at that blend in a way no one else is.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    1 out of 5 stars

Palaver

I ordered Against the Day because so much fuss is made about Thomas Pynchon. I now wonder more than ever why so much is made about his rambling style. I could not become interested in any of the characters, and just when a plot thread starts to appear, it is abandoned. I do admit he has a command of the English language and that he is creative with names and factoids. However, that was not enough to keep my interest. Listening to it made me long for James Joyce - I left Against the Day, which goes on for years, and returned to Ulysses, which in my mind, accomplishes more in a Bloomsday.

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars

Against this book

I've awaited an audibook from this author for some time although I was a little hesitant to embark on a novel 50+ hours long. The reviews on here didn't help either since they were posted a few days after the audio became available and were most likely from a fan or someone who wanted it to look good with 5 stars without having actually read the thing. I gave this book two hours of my time, but none of it was compelling. I kept asking myself why I was being thrown into this story and could find no justification for remaining interested after two hours. I understand this is not a typical novel, but I think a published book should grab you somewhere within the first two hours (or in print, by at least the second chapter). Still, I was let down. I am giving it two stars because I thought the narrator was wonderful. I would not warn against reading it, but I think this was definitely the wrong place to start with Pynchon

11 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars

Brilliant performance

The narrator's work on this book deserves to be recognized as one of the great audio performances. Showing infinite patience with an interminable book, the narrator keeps the characters distinct, employing different voices. By bringing out the pathos and humor in each character, he shows that he understands Pynchon's book, or is at least willing to try. His rendering of the Archduke's offensive jokes, for example, is so hilarious that I listened to it about ten times before moving on. I don't think I could have gotten through this book without the narrator's performance, much less keep the narrative straight.

9 people found this helpful

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    1 out of 5 stars
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  • clive
  • 02-10-13

Too much

I really struggled through this. It's very long but I didn't feel immersed in it. I didn't care for any of the characters, who were like figures in some endless, unresolved mathematical equation. The storyline plots were so unconstrained and random that I got lost and past caring. I thought his sympathy for violence in the anarchist cause was cartoonish, naive and unquestioning. I couldn't see the depth, humour or intelligence that others have seen. There is some great writing but it was swamped by too much of everything, with no sense of resolution or even of stories merging. Some people love him but I'd recommend David Foster Wallace or Jennifer Egan instead.

7 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Antti
  • 05-11-16

"And when Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays!"

"There are stories, like maps that agree . . . too consistent among too many languages and histories to be only wishful thinking. . . . It is always a hidden place, the way into it is not obvious, the geography is as much spiritual as physical. If you should happen upon it, your strongest certainty is not that you have discovered it but returned to it. In a single great episode of light, you remember everything.” — Thomas Pynchon, ”Against the Day” (2006)

I have never published reviews for books I’ve not finished, but I’m doing so now because in all honesty I think it’ll be quite a long time until I’m ready to try Pynchon’s ”Against the Day” (2006) again. If you’ll allow me, I’ll try to explain why I still want to jot some thoughts down.

I had arrived rather late (I have no idea why) to the Pynchon party that had been going on for almost half a century before me, and chose ”Mason & Dixon” (1997) as my way in (again I have no idea why) in 2014. From the very first sentence I knew my life as a book reader had changed forever. There was beauty in it, both wild and precise, funny and truly profound often at the same time. There was a treasure to be found on every page, sentences were like whirlwinds. It took me a month to read, which was quite a feat since I not only was I working full-time during the day, we also had three small children to look after, and the book, not the shortest of tomes, was just so beautifully written I often had to read it out loud.

I truly was transfixed. I still return to it, sometimes reading from the beginning, sometimes just opening it at random and I’m transported. Thinking I could read anything after that, I tackled ”Against the Day” (2006) in the hope that this sense of omnipotence would easily carry through that work as well. I had heard it was difficult, but I had heard the same thing about ”Mason & Dixon” as well, so I figured that since it came so easily to me, would there be any reason to doubt why this one wouldn’t as well?

But the well had run dry. I couldn’t get past the first hundred pages, and let it be. I let it be, read something else meanwhile and in early 2015 tried to return. I read the first forty pages and again hit the wall. I did manage to read ”Inherent Vice” rather quickly, and enjoyed it a lot, and then entered ”Gravity’s Rainbow” (1973), which I slumbered through and couldn’t get a grip on, regardless of also perusing George Guidall’s audiobook, at this writing not available here. Last autumn I tried again. I bought the Kindle version to go along the audiobook, the Whispersync for Voice a rather wonderful technology, and bought the first edition hardback for about US$1, a beautiful book in its own right.

And here I am now, some six months later, stuck somewhere around page 350. (”But how many times did it take to stop being a coincidence and start being a pattern?”) And while I know I won’t be able to finish it in who knows how many years (I don’t even really want to return to it in the foreseeable future), I can still attest to its remarkable beauty. Regardless of my inability to tackle the book, Pynchon remains a master of language, narrative and ideas. I mean who is able to conjure something like this: ”As they came in low over the Stockyards, the smell found them, the smell and the uproar of flesh learning its mortality—like the dark conjugate of some daylit fiction they had flown here”, or ”Out the window in the distance, contradicting the prairie, a mirage of downtown Chicago ascended to a kind of lurid acropolis, its light as if from nightly immolation warped to the red end of the spectrum, smoldering as if always just about to explored into open flames”?There are heartbreaking moments, many laugh-out-loud funny bits (”Men in this era are not being known to sigh, he exhaled expressively”). There’s a ball lightning that makes a great reading companion in otherwise lowlight conditions, there’s even a Finn there, who’s just as unpredictably insane as one could wish; a smart dog quickly presents itself, and there’s even a mysterious object that arrives from our deep mythological past, absolutely thrilling stuff.

I like the episodic structure of the thing, and it makes for enjoyable reading and listening for the most part, but it’s also what made it impenetrable for me. If not impenetrable, since that’s perhaps too hyperbolic a word, then at least consuming. As enjoyable as the book was, it was also moving a bit too quickly for me to keep up. I ended up lost, my knees and wrists bruised. ”I almost got it!” I might have exclaimed like a mad scientist, eyes bulging. It’s just too much for the time being, and I’ll happily admit the fact. And it’s not the length in itself, it’s the complexity and relentlessness Pynchon moves through time and space, as well as the details he’s able to put on the page that while completely immersive, they also make for a rather daunting experience.

As for Dick Hill, he does an admirable job. I’m not completely won over, though, as most people seem to be. His is a lively reading, and tremendously funny, too, but he also sometimes reads it a bit too over the top, which at times feels like it’s gone a tad too bonkers for my taste, by which I mean that he goes from straight out shouting to lullaby-style whispering in a split second. And while this is my problem and not yours, I find the dynamics of the recording a bit too all over the place to be enjoyable in any other circumstance than complete silence, regardless of how well my earphones block outside noise.

In short, a wild masterwork of imaginative writing (”And when Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays!”), a remarkably ambitious audio recording and, for the time being, I feel too much like a Sisyphus to be able to say I’ve read it. But I like it, regardless.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • P
  • 12-23-12

Work of genius well told

This is a towering performance of narration which perfectly compliments a fabulous work of art. It is always hard to categorise Thomas Pynchon's work but this lives up to my adoration-soaked expectations. It is joyous, darkly comic, poignant and explosive in its perceptions. It's Technicolor writing performed by a Eastman film voice. And, just to get all value-for-money on you, it's Hours of entertainment at a snip. Bold and beautiful stuff.

4 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Tashifan
  • 07-07-14

An epic romp through the end of an era

As always, Pynchon develops a huge caste of vivid and diverse characters who navigate through various long and convoluted plots which eventually converge together. The immerging technologies of the 20th century are well used to pepper his tale with seeming phantasmagorical happenings, leaving the reader to sometimes wonder where one is being led, only to find oneself in a recognisable place or happening of the time.
I am full of admiration for Dick Hill as narrator/navigator through this maze. He manages to give each character their own voice which well reflects their personalities, and keeps a good pace going throughout. Even so, I have been forced to re-listen to huge chunks of the book as I suddenly came down to earth and realised that I was completely and irrevocably lost!
Yes, great value for money and great fun. I was fully immersed in this wondrous tale for several weeks, in the end, and probably listened to the book more than twice by the time I had finished.
Don’t hesitate, jump in head first and enjoy!!

2 people found this helpful

  • Overall
    2 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • Dez V
  • 05-21-18

Interesting, but ponderous overwrought novel

One of the few audiobooks I struggled to finish. Narration was OK, but too many characters, with no clear story line (there are some great ideas of how industrialisation and capitalism at the early 1900s shaped our current world and geared up to WW I) and a lack of a proper suspense arc.

The Meta textual elements (playing with references to it all being fiction or one big illusion etc) doesn't help to build more involvement.

Perhaps it's the prose and parody style that limits empathy with any of the characters, and it's a shame, because there are some very good moody bits in it, so with some more editing could've been great.

1 person found this helpful

  • Overall
    4 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    5 out of 5 stars
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  • Niemand
  • 12-09-21

Dodgy non-American accents

The narrator performs American voices and accents admirably, but his attempts at non-American accents are for the most part pitiful. His British and Irish accents are particularly bad, and often unrecognisable, and his Italian and Japanese accents border on the offensive.

  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    3 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    3 out of 5 stars
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  • CMV
  • 08-27-18

Mixed feelings

I really enjoyed this for a while (in spite of the somewhat distorted and unclear audio). There are segments of unbelievably good prose, fantastically imaginative ideas, and a lot of humour. However, after a while it just began to drag: I suspect some of the maths jokes passed me by and so seemed to become unnecessarily long-winded, the sex scenes were funny at first but then, like the maths, became rather boring. I’d been hoping for a more satisfying ending—not to explain everything, but as it is the story just seems to lose steam. I was left feeling that it would have benefited from a substantial edit in length, to make the allusions and ideas more focused.

  • Overall
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Performance
    5 out of 5 stars
  • Story
    4 out of 5 stars
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  • Darren
  • 09-09-16

And when Franz Ferdinand pays, everybody pays!

Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

Yes. It's mad, maddening and funny. Interesting things are complicated.

What did you like best about this story?

The mix of history, humour and fiction.

Have you listened to any of Dick Hill’s other performances? How does this one compare?

NA

Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

Yes. See the title of this review. This is a quote from the book with a dual meaning which is at once funny and tragic.

Any additional comments?

If you have a spare 50 hours, listen to this 😀

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  • Simon Toppin
  • 10-30-22

Excellent prose but over-long.

An astute editor could take this from curiosity to masterpiece. Very arch and sporadically brilliant but finishing this took effort.