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John Barth: Giles Goat-Boy or the Revised New Syllabus

At one time, this novel was hailed as one of the contenders for Great American Novel but it now it seems so Sixties, so dated. Barth starts off playing those games he so loves, about where the manuscript of this story might have come from. But the novel is essentially the story of George Giles, founder of New Tammany College which is a symbol for life, the world and so on. Giles, due to the intervention of WESCAC, a huge computer, is born into a herd of goats and brought up by said goats. Though he is human, his erotic fantasies are geared towards goats, which Barth uses as a device for all sorts of cheap caprierotic jokes. Indeed, as we follow the Goat-Boy’s picaresque journey to become Grand Tutor of New Tammany College, Barth seems more intent on cheap jokes and pedestrian musings on good and evil. The novel is certainly witty – dirty jokes, literary games, parodies, philosophical conundrums are all there – but jokes about goats’ breasts start to wear thin after a bit. My copy has over eight hundred pages. You may not want to go the distance.

Publishing history

First published 1966 by Doubleday