Pattern Recognition

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

In William Gibson’s seventh novel, Cayce (pronounced Case) Pollard travels from New York to London to evaluate a footwear logo. Ironically for someone in her profession, she hates trademarks, removing all from her clothing, and is actually terrified of the Michelin man. The most meaningful aspect of her life is following “the footage,” 135 pieces of film available on the Web. Are they segments of a unified whole? What are their maker’s goals? Where and who is the maker? Cayce’s employer, a Belgian billionaire, asks her to find out. Can she trust him? Can she trust anyone? Who is following her and why?

Gibson’s tale works well as a mystery and as a character study. Many novels about the postmodern world offer mere figureheads as protagonists, but Cayce is well rounded, resourceful, and sympathetic: a lost soul as Everywoman. Pattern Recognition examines the ways the Internet creates unlikely communities, while recognizing the need of the individual, even cynics like Cayce, to be part of communities.

While the novel is intelligent and well written, it lacks that extra element that would elevate it to a higher level. Gibson is often compared to Thomas Pynchon, clearly a major influence here, as are Martin Amis and Don DeLillo, but Pattern Recognition resembles less the Pynchon of V. (1963) and Gravity’s Rainbow (1973) than the one of The Crying of Lot 49 (1966). It is an admirable but lesser achievement.

Review Sources

Booklist 99, no. 6 (November 15, 2002): 548.

Kirkus Reviews 70, no. 22 (November 15, 2002): 1641-1642.

Library Journal 128, no. 2 (February 1, 2003): 116.

New Scientist 178, no. 2397 (May 31, 2003): 50-51.

The New York Times Book Review, January 19, 2003, p. 7.

The New Yorker 78, no. 45 (February 3, 2003): 87.

Publishers Weekly 250, no. 3 (January 20, 2003): 57-58.

Time 161, no. 6 (February 10, 2003): 80.

The Times Literary Supplement, May 2, 2003, p. 24.