Saturday, September 19, 2009

Book I am too stupid to read but read anyway

The Prisoner by Disch

Rarely do I read books that make me feel incredibly stupid, but when I do, they are usually science-fiction books.   That was the case with The Prisoner, which is based on the British television show of the same name.   I think this show originally aired in the sixties, and it was something of an enigma even then.  

The Prisoner chronicled some days in the life of a man known only as Number 6 who lived in a village full of other people known only by numbers.   The viewer picked up the idea that all of these people had at one point had very high security clearance jobs.   When these people had wanted to retire from their secretive lives, the people they worked for wanted to make sure that the secrets in their heads remained secrets.

Number 6, played beautifully by Patrick McGoohan, was not very happy with suddenly finding himself in some weird village with crazy architecture and even crazier people when he thought he was going off to a happy retirement in a seaside village (it was by the sea, I guess).   Despite subtle and not-so-subtle warnings from the townsfolk and the mysterious people in charge of The Village, Number 6 decided to try to escape.  

With its unique visuals (you really have to see The Village to believe it), heavily philosophical themes, openly political commentary, and Rover, The Prisoner was definitely not your same old run-of-the-mill TV show.

Since I'm dictating this using voice-recognition software, I don't feel that I am accurately able to get across to you exactly how cool and bizarre and confusing and fascinating the show was.   I caught it in reruns on the Sci-fi Channel, I never even saw more than half of the episodes, and I never understood half of what I was seeing, but I was still drawn to the show and the idea of the show and the underlying theme of what it means to be a prisoner.  

When I saw a novel titled The Prisoner, I picked it up in the interest of finding out exactly what happened in the parts of the series that I had missed.   (I could've simply gone out and purchased the series, but it is still insanely expensive even in the boxed set.)   I was intrigued when the marketing copy on the book cover stressed that this was not a novelization but was a novel based on the series, so I ended up checking it out and giving it a read.  

Pretty much from page-one, I began to feel my ignorance very strongly.   It was not just the fact that the literary and philosophical references were being scattered roughly every other word.   It was not just the fact that the banter was going nearly faster than I could follow despite the fact that I could stop at any time at read it again.   It was not just the fact that they were setting up a fascinating and tragic relationship from the beginning.   It was not just the fact that I felt like a kid eavesdropping on the adult table at the graduate school faculty's Christmas party.   Let's just say it was a lot of things.

Any books you enjoyed even as you knew they were going way over your head?

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