In this outrageously farcical adventure, hero George Giles sets out to conquer the terrible Wescac computer system that threatens to destroy his community in this brilliant "fantasy of theology, sociology, and sex" ( Time ).
This was my first exposure to Barth but based on this it certainly won't be my last. I wasn't sure exactly what to expect, but what I can understand I find myself liking quite a bit. For those who have no idea about this book, it's basically the "quest" of Giles to reprogram the evil WESAC computer that is messing with the New Tammany College campus and even that brief blurb isn't enough to give this book ample justice. The plot is mostly straightforward, to me at least but the layers of satire that wrap around everything give the book greater depth, just when you think you've got it pegged as one thing, Barth gives a sly clue and it all shifts. Is it merely a big joke on the Cold War, or a comment on our culture in general. Or neither. The novel encompasses religion, sex, culture, war, just about everything you can think of and the humor is dark and bitter and at the same time hilariously funny, Giles is the perfect narrator and his observations are both hugely innocent and slyly subversive. The ultimate quest of stopping the computer becomes unimportant when you consider the events that it takes to get there and if there's any book with a more real yet wildly fantastic set of characters, I haven't read it, just when you think that he's treating them all as one big joke, a stray comment or an action reminds you that these are supposed to be real characters. As you can probably tell, this is a novel that you can't go in with any preconceptions, and if you do a lot of it will probably be lost on you. It's a massively dense read and took me almost two months (not because it was difficult, that weird time thing you see) but never once did I think of not finishing it. Definitely worth the time put into it and you can get the time, don't hesitate!
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 21 years ago
Giles Goat-Boy (or the Revised New Syllabus) By John Barth (or maybe WESCAC) "A-Plus!"This tremendous book opened with a "message from the publisher", declaring that two of their five associate editors quit over the decision to publish this book and included a written statement from each editor about their opinion of the book. Even though that set up the book (in my mind) to be much more raunchy and heathenistic than I thought it actually was, it was an extremely amusing addition to an already great book. The story begins in a goat barn and we meet our hero Billy, George and GILES, alternatively. Max, an old Moishian (Jew) brought up Billy as a goat intentionally in order to shield him from human misery. After meeting a human woman, Billy decides he wants to become learned. This story uses a university as an allegory for the Universe and everything within - religion, politics and literature - follows that same allegory. One is "passed" instead of "saved" and "flunked" instead of "damned". The political leader is, of course, the Dean. God is the Founder and Satan is the Dean O' Flunks. Oedipus Rex and the Emperor's New Clothes (which both figure strongly in the story) are, respectively, Taliped Decanus and the Chancellor's New Gown. Throughout the story is mention of the "Quiet Riot" New Tammany College is having with their neighboring Student-Unionist College. Both have Super computers, one WESCAC and the other EASCAC, that can EAT (steal the vital energy) of humans. It turns out the goat boy decides he is the next Grand Tutor (messiah) and travels to New Tammany College to declare himself as such. There he meets a handful of memorable characters (including another Grand Tutor) and must complete a list of assignments given him by WESCAC to "commence" and "graduate" so he can go on to graduate others. This book includes bestiality, rape, incest, homosexuality, and many other things some may consider objectionable, but it is amazing how normal it sounds coming from George's viewpoint.
A volatile reworking of human thought and history.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 22 years ago
This is an amazing book once you've committed to it. The energy in the prose comes from the clash between a forced, post-apocalyptic perspectives and rosy-eyed romanticism. The most twisted, most brilliant reworking of the mythological paradigm, tackling along with it the cliches of authorship and modern society.
A hilarious, yet depressing, ode to futility.
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 22 years ago
First, let it be said that John Barth's work is hilarious and that Giles Goatboy is his best, in my opinion. Much of the humor is rooted in his insightful view of life, love, and the seeming futility of it all. Giles Goatboy offers up the microcosm of academia as the stage upon which the Greek tragedy of all our lives is played. The only real redeeming features in Barth's worldview are the laughs he rummages out of the ashes of nihilism, and his wicked, self-deprecating sense of humor. However, his works ultimately offer up a depressingly futile vision of life. His humor makes his perspective palatable, in fact, tasty, but I often find myself hoping that for his sake, Mr. Barth has more hope than his novels portray
Like the tide, Bath's stories cleanse and refresh our life
Published by Thriftbooks.com User , 24 years ago
I suppose it is inevitable that, as the post-war boomers approach the big six-zero over the next decade, we will see a tidal flood of tender, soul-searching narratives. Boomers want to understand rather than simply experience life, and most have been frustrated by life's refusal to obey our expectations. John Barth seems to have made such soul searching his life work, and I seem to have followed him book for book, life experience by life experience over the years. A clever "academic" writer (read: "he writes like a dream but his wit sometimes overwhelms the story"), Barth has addressed boomer experience and frailty . Seeming to be five to ten years ahead of boomers, his books have ranged from the tragedy resulting from a terribly botched abortion (long before we openly spoke of this horror), through the visionary and usually misguided quest of the idealist (Sot-Weed Factor and Giles Goatboy), the terrible pain of realizing one is an adult (the clever but exhausting Letters), to more leisurely and accessible mid-life reassessment as protagonists take "voyages" on the emotional seascape of middle age (Sabbatical, Tidewater Tales, Last Voyage of Somebody the Sailor, Once upon a Time...). Each five years or so, I eagerly await his newest offering, devour it, and then feel frustrated when his literary games seem to detract from his story. But, then, each time I realize (as if for the first time), the essential nature of his writing. Like the age-old games from which his writings spring (the quest/redemption stories of the Iliad and Oddessy, the "doomed" prophet stories of the Old and New Testaments, the mistaken identity games of Shakespeare and thousands of authors since, and the metaphor of story as voyage and voyage as growth from Chaucer, 1001 Nights, etc), Barth plays his games to remind us that the act of story telling *is* the experience, it *is* the reason we read: the experience of hearing ghost stories around the camp fire remains with us long long after we have forgotten the actual story. And then I remember that, as a reader, I have no more "right" to expect neatness and closure in a Barth story than I have the right to expect neatness and closure in my own life. Try as we might, our own work, our own story is always in progress. And like Barth's beloved Tidewater, the ebb and flow of our own story defies our attempt to capture to master it. In the end, life and Barth's stories remain as delightfully cleansing as the tide itself. KRH www.umeais.maine.edu/~hayward
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