The title means literally 'a pit or enclosed place for cockfights'. In Kosinski's vision it stands for human society, where people senselessly fight each other to the death. As the same time the title says something about the situation of Tarden, who thinks of himself as moving through space, invading other people's "areas" as if sitting in the cockpit of a private aircraft, isolated from them all, controlling everything from his instrument panel.
The book contains to a lot of genres (according to my "reading help"), but I think that it's most a spy-thriller which criticises the moral and methods of secret services on both sides of the Iron Curtain.
The main person is Tarden, the hero in this story. He reminds some (older) people of the heroes of spy fiction. He may even be looked upon as the ultimate secret agent. However, Tarden is not the tough, strong superman. He relies on his supreme intellectual powers, and since his health is delicate he avoids physical combat. Like any man, he fears pain and death, and he always carries a poison-filled pellet as an ultimate resort. Tarden's most prominent trait is his self-chosen loneliness. He wants to protect his individual personality at all costs, and seeks safety in isolation. He feels that, in order to survive he must beat other people at their own game. A keen observer, he is intensely interested in the smallest detail of other people's lives, taking photos, keeping files, and storing information in his brain. He interferes in other people's lives, forcing them to take part in all sorts of crimes, perversities and cruelties and making them victims of practical jokes. All the time he remains unaffected, emotionally at a distance, in perfect control of the situation. He acts like a god, rewarding the good and punishing the bad. He is a kind of puppet-master, who pulls the strings of his puppets without really caring what show they perform.
With the exception of Tarden himself, all the characters are flat. There are a great many of them from all spheres of life in the book. Kosinski is mainly interested in the extremes of the human characterand in exceptional relations and situations. All the people in the book are drawn with a few swift, sure strokes. Though they are not round characters, they come alive because in them the reader recognises parts of himself, hidden fears desires and frustrations, which he doesn't care to admit.
The story is going on in the "seventies". I think so because the book is written in the seventies. Tarden goes on to relate a great number of incidents in his life so that the story is in fact a long monologue. The various episodes are not arranged in logical sequence or in chronological order. The reader is presented with a series of separate sketches which shift back and forward in place and time.
he story is told in the first person. Right at the beginning, Tarden, the I of the novel, addresses the reader, whom he imagines to be a woman. He claims to have met her, takes her into confidence and invites her to relive his past with him. In this way the writer establishes close contact between the reader and the narrator.
This "story" (you can call it what you like) is a "compilation" of sketches, so the story starts with one of his sketches. And sure, it ends also with a sketch. So I can't really say what's the main happening, or how the book starts or ends. I presumed it as very difficult.
The novel deals with life in our century, which the writer sees as the Age of Corruption. Kosinski describes a journey through a terrifying world of brutalities, nightmares, injustice, cruelty and meaninglessness, where man loses his dignity altogether. In his view, there is not much to choose between the regimentation imposed by the government of his native country and the pressure put upon the individual in "free" Europe or America. In either case the individual is powerless against the forces of mass society. Tarden, the main character, has a burning desire to preserve himself in the face of nearly impossible odds. Kosinski tells about Tarden's single-handed battle against a world which threatens to rob him of the one thing he can really call his own: His individual existence.
Goal of writing
I believe that the writer only wants to show me what's all about when you're a "super-spy" or something like that; he just wants to amuse me.
His language is really clear and obvious; but still I understood (I believe) only the half of it. My English teacher said to me that "Cockpit" was a real difficult book to understand; He kept the entire book simple, I understood what he was saying (I knew almost all the words he used, except at the start of the book) but what he really meant it was a big puzzle to me.
At first I'd like to say it really was a book hard to understand, although Kosinski language was very clear. My English teacher already said to me that this book a difficult book to understand. I've read the book twice, and the second time (when I got some information about the book and writer) I quite (not really) understood the book.
My first expectation of this book was that it would contain much action; I read that on the back of the book. It did contain much action but I only understood the half (maybe less) of it. And I thought the main person was pilot of an aeroplane (for example a Boeing or something like that) The things that happen in the book are different but they have a relation with each other: They have to do with the job and life of the main person, Tarden. I believe that the things written in this book maybe really have happened; but: A page after the title page stood:
"Authors note: This book is wholly fiction. Any resemblance to the present or past is gratuitous and similarity to any actual event or character is accidental and not intended"
I was shocked after I read that Robert tried to kill Tarden and later he (Robert) had hung himself. I knew that Tarden saw a death body, because his description of the death body fits with my experiences (I've seen the death body of my mother). But going further on the suicide of Robert: I really could understand that: Robert was a "Lunatic" (a very mad man) Later seemed that Robert was a man with a double personality. I think Tarden isn't somebody like James Bond or another "super-spy": he's just doing his job and he makes best of it, whit all his possibilities; I think he's really cool by that. I think there could live persons like him on this planet. I experienced the story like a sort of film/adventures through the eyes of Tarden because of the clear descriptions of the writer. I was a bit irritated when Tarden didn't want to go to bed with some women, but it's logical (I believe that); he's rather alone with himself then with other people. The story was also hard to read because there wasn't one story; there were different sketches/stories he had been through in his life. It was also hard to read because I didn't have any "reading help". Even on the Internet I couldn't find a single thing about this book. I found a lot of information about the author: Mr. Kosinski. Finally I became some help from my English teacher Mr. De Bruin. He gave me a book with some information about this book: It made the reading of the book a lot easier to me.
I think that Kosinski really is a good writer, but not for me; I just need books with one story and a story that is easy to understand. And I just need books that are easy to read and stories with nothing special. (Just a story, with some main persons a few special places that are important to the story and nothing else what isn't written in the book) But what I liked on this book that the choice of the words were simple; It surprised me: The most books I read were hard to understand and very often I had to look for words I didn't understand in the English-Dutch dictionary. That wasn't necessary with this book but I didn't realise what the writer meant with his words. Maybe I have to practise more to understand that.
After all: Next time I'll have to choose a book, which is easier to interpret than this book. And maybe it's easier to choose a book which is filmed; It's not quite the same but maybe it can help me more.
Tarden was born in an unnamed East European country, where he grew up as an only child. As a two-year-old he already suffered from sleep-walking. At three, he wounded his nanny with a pair of scissors and dropped a flowerpot on a little boy who had broken one of his toys. When he was 12 years old, he made fake phone calls to people, put them to great inconvenience and expense. Tarden was able to play such tricks upon people because even at that early age he could perfectly imitate any human voice. The police beat him up and put him in jail, but he was soon released on account of his youth.
Tarden spent his winter holidays in a mountain village in the north of the country. Together with the village children, he took part in a ceremony on the occasion of the coming of the cold winter wind from the tundra (sort of climate). Throwing birds and small animals into a pond, the children watched them freeze to death and drown.
Tarden studied science at the State Academy, where he became a lecturer after his graduation. Feeling hemmed (enclosed) in and threatened by the communistic regime, he found a way of leaving the country by fooling the authorities into granting him a foreign research scholarship. Settling in America, Tarden made the acquaintance of Robert, an assistant professor in economics, who invited him to live with him in his apartment. Robert was in every prospect a devoted friend, yet he turned out to a murderous lunatic who tried to kill Tarden. This incident proved, in Tarden's words, 'the estrangement that may lie beneath apparent mutual understanding'.
From then on, Tarden was entirely his own. He lived in complete isolation apart from brief, superficial contacts with other people when he forced himself upon them or had to defend himself from them.
When the story opens, Tarden is already a middle-aged man. His health is failing, but he has amassed a large fortune. He protects himself by having several apartments in which he has installed all sorts of ingenious safety devices. Each apartment is fitted with professional photographic equipment and a dark room as well as a secret hiding place. Continually moving from one apartment to another and flitting in and out of America, Tarden lives anonymously and without any ties.
Tarden's delicate constitution and his lack of physical strength force him to rely on his intelligence in the struggle for survival. He possesses a perfect memory and great scientific, linguistic as well as psychological skills, and he uses his exceptional mental powers to impose his will upon people and manipulate them.
Tarden has gathered a fortune by selling foreign documents to the American Secret Service - the highest bidders! - which he joins for a time. The Americans send him on various missions in European countries. His adventures there involve treachery, torture, murder and all sorts of lurid (Dutch à luguber) sexual encounters. Getting hold of some extremely valuable antiques, Tarden hides them in public toilets all over America. Though he is not primarily out for money, he tries to get as much of it as he ca, because he knows money is an effective weapon. Wealth is a safeguard against what he feels to be a terrible danger: to be left at the mercy of society and the State.
After leaving the Service, Tarden continues to lead the kind of life he has got accustomed to. His exploits leave him emotionally unaffected. In each of his encounters, which involve men, women and children as well as animals, he assumes a different identity. He brushes against people of different races, nations and classes of society, and finds that there are no essential differences between them.
Violence, Terror and outrage, sexual perversity, psychological torment and off-hand, casual murders are the ingredients which make up the bulk(Dutchà het grootste deel) of Tarden's story. With cool detachment he lays bare the corruptness of people, not excluding himself. Now and again he uses people, playing tricks on them and testing their reactions, because gathering information is essential to him. At the end of the book, after having escaped death once more, Tarden looks out of the window at skaters on a rink (rolschaatsbaan), moving smoothly in a circle of light. But as he watches, the rink appears to revolve (omwentelen) around the skaters, who stand like frozen sculptures growing out of the ice. (Just like the bird earlier à throwing the birds and then the birds froze till death).