"The world is sometimes too much for Bit, too full of terror and beauty. Every day he finds himself squeezed under a new astonishment. The universe pulses outwards at impossible speeds. Bit feels its spin into nothing."
You might not know this about me, but I am essentially a giant hippy. There's kind of nothing I don't like about the whole rejection of Capitalism, and you know, that whole peace, love and understanding dealie sounds pretty great to me plus, you know, crazy dancing and constant listening to Joni Mitchell (or is that just me..?) I could probably take or leave communal living (a la Arcadia), but as long as there are enough bathrooms for everyone, then... Yeah, that doesn't sound so bad either.
So. Arcadia! It's kind of about the rise and fall of the hippy ideal, but as much as it's that, it's also the story of Bit, the child of Arcadia (basically a big commune) and his journey through life, starting from when he's 5 years old and trying to make sense of the world he's been brought into (which is not the world that most of us have lived in) and stretching all the way to him being... Actually I'm not sure exactly how old, but he's got to be in his 50s. It's a really interesting way to watch a character grow, because whilst at 50-odd he's obviously different, and the world around him is even more different, there are still character traits that you can pick out from when he was 5 years old, and worried about his mother.
I wasn't sure about the book structurally to begin with- there are 4 parts to the novel and each part jumps to a different time, so you see Bit at 5, then about 14, then 35-ish, and then in his 50s. That first jump is a little jarring, and also just shows the setting up of Arcadia, and then shows it as its falling apart, and it kind of feels like you miss out on a lot of the good times that they must have had. It's a little disappointing, but only in that I really wanted to know every detail of everything that happened in Arcadia, and to me that's the mark of a good book.
I became more convinced about the structure though when Bit is in his 30s and living outside of Arcadia (note: the blurb totally says this is going to happen. So it's not a spoiler. Also, it's not really that kind of book...) and thinking back on his time there, and talking about his life now, and I got the weirdest stab of nostalgia for the life that he had in Arcadia- because apparently, Groff had described enough of it for me to imagine what it was like, and damn, it was beautiful.
It actually took me quite a long time to finish Arcadia, and I think that's because of this: the writing is so beautiful that I wanted to really sink into it and never leave. Which, in practical terms, meant I could only read it in about 10 page bursts so I could give it my full attention before something else came up. It's not just that the odd sentence was beautiful, basically every sentence was, AND (as an added bonus) this wasn't at the expense of the story at all- in fact, it made the story, the beautiful sentences being the way that Bit sees the world, and so how we get to see the world. And it's lovely.
But- and here's why Arcadia is really great- even though we see things from Bit's perspective, and Bit is predisposed to see the world as fairly beautiful, there are still plenty of other characters, and with almost all of them, you know for a fact that they wouldn't see the same world in nearly the same way, or with nearly as much light. And this is perfect, because it means that, even whilst you're luxuriating in Bit's world, you're not blind to its flaws, and you don't feel bad that you might not be as, um, mellow as Bit, because his way isn't reality, it's just his reality. But it's a lovely place to be for the duration of the book.
Basically, Arcadia is really lovely, and I have barely even spoken about the parts outside the commune (essentially the second half of the book) which, actually, might just be my favourite parts because of that whole uneasy displacement thing that I sort of love. But, you know, you can go exploring by yourself, read Arcadia and tell me what you find. And then we can all start a commune and just read and blog and stuff and it will be MAGNIFICENT. You know you want to.