What a bleak world `Carpenter's Gothic' depicts: a world of chicanery, cynicism and opportunism - a world largely absent of compassion and love. And what a challenge it was, to stay with the pace of the novel because it certainly didn't allow me to develop and impose my own reading pace.
The novel describes a comparatively brief period in the life of Elizabeth `Liz' Booth, during a period in which she and her husband Paul rent a house from a mysterious man named McCandless. This house, built in the architectural style known as `Carpenter's Gothic', is situated in the Hudson River Valley. It is a house that looks impressive from a distance but is really `a patchwork of conceits, borrowing and deceptions': a fitting setting for the story that is about to unfold.
`Feel like I'm in here talking to myself.'
The story unfolds in a form of dialogue which is sometimes a set of intersecting monologues; unattributed speech in which the characters (usually Liz and Paul) interrupt each other and in turn are interrupted by the daily intrusions of life - primarily the telephone and delivery of mail. It's up to the reader to interpret what is said, to choose from a range of alternate possible meanings. In the meantime, as the novel progresses, different elements of the plot are revealed making it necessary (at least for me) to revisit some earlier interpretations and conclusions.
Paul is obsessed with various schemes, none of which appear to have any real societal benefit and the juggling of which render him completely self-absorbed and Liz completely isolated. The later presence of McCandless, and appearances by Liz's brother Billy, afford the reader a different view of Liz's life.
My conclusions? It took me a while to adjust to the rhythm of this novel but once I found a rhythm I was comfortable with I found I couldn't put the novel down. It was a little like watching a high speed car crash in slow motion in order to try to work out what happened. And now that I'm finished, I suspect that I could read the novel again and form some different conclusions.
This is my first William Gaddis novel: I'll have to try to track down some others.