21 July 2009

Thomas M. Disch, 334, 1972

This is the novel (or more correctly, set of linked stories) which for many showed how Disch was often too clever by half for the rest of us. The novella ‘Angouleme’ included here was the subject of a book-length critical essay by Samuel R. Delany, who argued that despite the absence of scientific themes its speculative setting made it inherently science fiction. A snapshot of the 21st century lives of the people who live in 334 East 11th St, New York, it ranges from being at turns darkly comic and farcical to sharply realistic and unfailingly sympathetic. The science fiction is there in places but played down to the everyday while the social realism is played up, to the point that 334 takes the reader into immersive layers of intricacy, and with a Dickensian eye for detail that shrugs off the fact that this is all meant to be about ‘the future’. Neither was it ever meant to be a fun read in the way that Camp Concentration could be, and if Disch’s last posts on his Live Journal Endzone were indicative of the direction his thoughts were heading in his last weeks, he’d been there already in fiction with 334’s closing sentences. Someone – and really I can only mean Terry Gilliam – could probably make a very decent film of this.  PY


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