Sunday, February 22, 2009

Week 7's book: Pattern Recognition

Book: Pattern Recognition, by William Gibson

Grade: B+

When my brother found out I was doing the “52 Books in 52 Weeks” challenge, he sent me a list of novels he thought I’d enjoy. This was at the top of the stack.

I’ve read Neuromancer, of course, and appreciated (as opposed to “enjoyed”) it. Gibson’s other books have frustrated me. Have you ever had a serious conversation with someone whose accent is difficult to follow, or tried to listen to a dinner-party companion in the middle of a very noisy restaurant? You can follow the gist of what’s being said; you get the main points; but there are large stretches of time when you just keep smiling and nodding, waiting for the next audible words. Islands of meaning rise up out of the inaudible fog that obscures the rest. You’re mostly adrift in the mist.

That’s my experience when I read Gibson. Usually I have to reread two or three times before I can follow him. I don’t like this. It makes me feel stupid.

That sense was present but muted during my reading of Pattern Recognition. The book isn’t cyberpunk (a genre I don’t think I really have an affinity for), but Gibson’s still got his allusive, present-tense, real-time, proper-name thing going, and it doesn’t take much of that before I start struggling. (”Still doing heels, she checks her watch, a Korean clone of an old-school Casio G-Shock, its plastic case sanded free of logos with a scrap of Japanese micro-abrasive. She is due in Blue Ant’s Soho offices in fifty minutes.”)

Plus, I have absolutely no idea why Gibson decided to drag 9/11 into his plot. It didn’t fit when he introduced it; it still wasn’t fitting at the book’s end. It was totally extraneous to the novel’s world.

Despite that I was drawn into the plot (eventually; it helped that I got stuck this week on an airplane to Indianapolis with nothing else to read). To put this in a spoiler-free fashion: Gibson’s writing, in a way that strikes me as very personal to him, about the impossibility of existing in today’s world as a solitary, independent artist. You can create all you want; you can lock yourself in your lair, your studio, your retreat, your chicken-shed, and turn out the most innovative, beautiful, gripping stuff in the world; but if you don’t have an enormous, powerful, and very rich publicity machine behind you, no one will ever see/hear/read what you do. And the most effective publicity machines of all are those with enough money and clout to disguise marketing ploys as spontaneous interest.

Which I know to be true. It was a true and heart-felt and very depressing read.


  1. Gibson is certainly right about needing to be a sales person as well as an artist if one wants to be a success. I had a career as a painter before home-educating full-time. I hate discussing art at exhibitons, I can see the shadow of disappointment on people's faces as I talk the magic out of my paintings. Never, never ask visual artists to talk about their work. Art historians talk nonsense most of the time but artists themselves do something worse. They inadvertently show the strings of their puppets. The most commercially successful artists I know are not the most talented but the most likeable and best able to sell themselves verbally.
    I agree. Who wants to read about how unfair or hard it is to be an artist even if it is true? I read for pleasure, escapism or to educate myself.

  2. Sorry it was a depressing read. It is hard to describe books sometimes when they aren't books to be enjoyed, but absorbed and appreciated. I'm thankful for the honest review so I don't spend trying to read this one.


Thank you for your kind comments.