V- centres around two main characters. One of the characters is, Benny Profane, who having been discharged from the navy, becomes an itinerant labourer, taking any work that comes his way, he eventually finds himself in New York. "Finds himself" is a perfect description for Benny as he seems to bounce from pillar to post, with no apparent concern to where he lands. His reasoning for this is that he is a "Schlemihl", this being, a victim, loser or a bottom feeder, of no interest to anyone, least of all himself.
V - A Border-land tale
"Nothing heroic about a Schlemihl" Profane told her. "What was a hero? Randolph Scot, who could handle a six-gun, horses, reins, lariat, master of the inanimate. But a Schlemihl, that was hardly a man: somebody who lies back & takes it from objects, like any passive woman".The second main character, Herbert Stencil, is on a quest to track down V, (hence the title), which could be a place or the initial of the woman who may have killed his father. This initial appears in the journal of his father, an old time British spy/ Diplomat, & Stencil with these fragments of information, imagination, hearsay & rumour, follows Stencil senior's trail through various geo-political crisises, stretching from the late 19th Century to the early 20C in an attempt to build a cohesive image of V. As are we.
At the start of this post, I said that this novel centres around two main characters. Let me clarify this point, by centre, I'm using this definition "a point around which something revolves", this could be the eye of a storm, although that suggests a stillness, a viewpoint of clarity at the heart of the maelstrom. This does not exist. Everything leaks into the eye, past, present, Benny Profane crown prince of Schlemihl-hood & his relationship (? ) with Rachel, the German Mondaugen, listening to sferics in S.W. Africa, to Stencil senior's disappearance, blasted by a waterspout in the Mediterranean. Time is dislocated, space is ruptured, everything pours into the eye.
This book is immersive, by which I mean, you have to be prepared to totally immerse yourself. Think preparation, not logical, not with professorial intent, I mean more than taking a deep breath. Think full underwater apparatus, not snorkel, we're talking old school, a full suit, lead boots, a large helmet bolted down, with an air tube anchoring you to the surface.
V - is a dreamscape, you don't read it, you inhabit it & like some Border-land smuggler, you've travelled these paths, this route between paradoxical sleep (R.E.M.) & the waking moment too many times. Now you're tired, not sure which side of the border you're on & there's lights ahead.
V- is a bawdy satire, think Voltaire, think Rabelais, think Cervantes.
The novel is centuries older than we've been told (guardian.co.uk)