Vat 69

A few of my colleagues have recently formed a book club. The club is constituted of a pretty mixed bunch of more and less serious readers, with some romance-only types and a strong “audiobooks are reading too” contingent. Having started with a pretty basic book club staple, we planned then to embark on a season of reading a book from each of our birth years. Olga’s name was drawn first.

Olga was born in 1973.

So of course she picked Gravity’s Rainbow, despite my insisting that I really wasn’t sure it was a good idea, only suggested it as a joke, definitely don’t have any kind of weird predilections reflected in the book, and so on. Olga wasn’t backing down. We were to be presumably the first book club ever to follow Where the Crawdads Sing with Gravity’s Rainbow.

The Vat 69 appears on page nine, so at least a few of the book clubbers probably made it this far. The banana breakfast is in production:

On a wooden pub sign daringly taken, one daylight raid, by a drunken Bartley Gobbitch, across which still survives in intaglio the legend SNIPE AND SHAFT, Teddy Bloat is mincing bananas with a great isosceles knife, from beneath whose nervous blade Pirate with one hand shovels the blonde mash into waffle batter resilient with fresh hens’ eggs, for which Osbie Feel has exchanged an equal number of golf balls, these being even rarer this winter than real eggs, other hand blending the fruit in, not overvigorously, with a wire whisk, whilst surly Osbie himself, sucking frequently at a half-pint milk bottle filled with Vat 69 and water, tends to the bananas in the skillet and the broiler.

Gravity’s Rainbow, p. 9.

This passage in fact holds what you could argue is the true forgotten genesis of this whole Drunk Pynchon project. Way back when I first read the book, as a pretentious teenager of legal drinking age, I was inspired to procure myself a bottle of Vat 69 for a party. It was many years before it occurred to me that I should try to get a hold of all the other drinks too.

At that teenage party, being still a relative philistine and not having yet discovered the true path of literary mixological reconstruction, I probably mixed my Vat 69 with coke. I return now to drink it in the proper Osbie manner, watered down and from a milk bottle.

My milk bottle of choice was being sold at a local bric-a-brac place, who described it as Russian, although the bottle’s relief text (“A se clati dupa golire”) appears to be in Romanian (“Rinse after emptying”). It isn’t exactly your prototypical half-pint milk bottle, I’ll admit. But Pirate gets around a bit, and the green glass is quite fetching—who’s to say he didn’t bring back a Romanian souvenir that Osbie’s now sucking hungover from.

Watered down Vat 69 really does work quite pleasantly. It’s easy drinking, the slightly sweet honey notes accentuated by dilution. A hint of peat smoke still comes through towards the end. A half-pint or so of this would make a perfectly agreeable dog hair.

The book club, to none of your surprise, did not make it with GR. There was an early stand of determination (Olga exhorted the group at one point that there is “no revolution without blood,” I kid you not) but before long the “mental health of all involved” was invoked and the plug was pulled. Being mid-reread myself, I was at once relieved and saddened not to have to justify my love of this terrible majestic beast of a book. I do now need to think of something from my own birth year to nominate. Anyone have any 1990 favourites?

2 responses to “Vat 69”

  1. It was 30 years ago that I read it, but from 1990 I recall enjoying “Possession”, AS Byatt. I like Barbara Kingsolver but never did read her well-regarded 1990 novel “Animal Dreams.” If you like a hard-boiled detective novel, consider Devil in a Blue Dress, Walter Mosely. The latter is set in same locale as Inherent Vice, but about 20 years earlier.

    • Thanks Eric, great recommendations! I actually have a copy of Possession I picked up on the recommendation of another member of the book club. Very keen to read it. We’re currently doing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, so the Mosely might be a nice genre follow up.

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