The Combinations truly is a contemporary book that: falls into the category of Maximalist Literature (a new addition to the list for people into that) since this is a book of (the good kind of) excesses and, runs in the line of fun-having absurdity, anxiety & conspiracy centred novels that Pynchon’s name is attached to.
As a first comparison of structure and story, The Combinations is less Gravity’s Rainbow (other than its European setting) and more The Crying of Lot 49, extended, experimented, mutated & shuffled into 900~ pages, in which Armand shows what he’s got through very accessible chapter blocks incorporating a multitude of switches in form (from novel to screenplay to history book?), and a wide array of great influences that shape his writing into something genuinely enjoyable to read.
Within the core text there’s the sense of adventure and the page turning qualities of classic mystery writing, which smoothly allows 900 pages to slip by you. The mystery at the heart of it, however, has an almost Sine-like wave pulsing through the structure with each peak clicking the pieces into place, having the reader think they’re getting closer to the centre of the conspiracy and each trough throwing it back in your face, pushing you into another section of story that seems to dig a little deeper into the hole it’s written itself into.
The overall tone of the book for me was crafted in a way that did not do injustice to the core story being told, by being too focused on absurdity/comedy, and thus coming off as ingenuine or merely an attempt at overly paying homage to Armand’s influences. Instead The Combinations balances the sincere and yet bizarre narration of our protagonist’s journey through late 90’s Prague with footnotes that become a playground leading to nonsensical digressions and signposts to other chapters, and interjections from an outside voice (almost pushing the idea of an omniscient ‘writer’ or ‘author figure’ – I’ll use Arno Schmidt as an example, where the interjections are not all necessary but add to the overall atmosphere and wholeness of the book – to new redundant yet simultaneously essential heights); constantly pinpointing the real absurdity of the events and decisions made by characters.
I’d recommend this FFO: Pynchon (of course), Ulysses-like City Walking stories, Vollmann’s first novel… and big books that don’t sacrifice their fun element.
It’s worth the read.
m csmnt (Goodreads)