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Friday, 5 April 2013

Infinite Jest – David Foster Wallace (1996)






The ABC’s First Tuesday Book Club was televised, funnily enough, last Tuesday, and they ended by revealing that they would read and talk about Infinite Jest in next month’s show. I inwardly groaned because so far this book has defeated me. I bought it a few years back and initially I enjoyed both the style and the premise, but then I became bogged down and finally halted completely. I’m languishing on page 420, half way through 30 April / 1 May Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment (this will make sense if you try and read it).

The late David Foster Wallace was an adherent of the so-called hysterical realism style, which basically involves over the top prose that is all encompassing in its attention to detail regarding plot, characters and the minutia of the everyday and the not so everyday. Basically you are up for pages and pages of detail spent on one issue or subject, during which any number of tangents is not nearly enough. Well, this is my interpretation anyway.

The premise is suitably intriguing, complex and amazing. Infinite Jest is party focused on teenage tennis players at a sport-focused American college and partly on the patients at a drug rehab centre. It also involves a video that is so entertaining that the people watching it will starve to death and defecate where they sit rather than stop watching. Oh and it also seems to be set either in the near future or in an alternative present, I can’t quite work out which.

So the question is - should I attempt to finish this book that is sometimes tedious and sometimes brilliant? Has anyone else had the same problem? Or is Infinite Jest a work of genius and I’m simply not up to its challenges? I know from briefly researching the book online that it undoubtedly has its admirers and that it is perhaps the ultimate cult book of our times. This is all very well, but I still can’t get enthused about finishing it. Perhaps I should just get on with it; after all, I kind of want to know what’s on that videotape.

9 comments:

  1. I have had the same problem. I only made it to page 110. There were many parts I loved, but equally as many that bored me to tears. It doesn't help that I hate tennis. All I could think was, why didn't the editor intervene? I asked a friend who had pressed on to the end if it was worth it and he said no. Maybe hysterical realism is just not for me.

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    1. I didn't think that I was alone! It will be interesting to see what the First Tuesday Book Club people think of it.

      See you next Monday at the library.

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  2. I can't imagine it's going to get great review on First Tuesday...we'll see.

    See you Monday - looking forward to it.

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  3. I don't think it will either!

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  4. so what did you think about the book club review..it seemed they all struggled but dempsey read it five times!!..i wish he was able to speak more about why he loved it so much...i have read some amazing essays by wallace..not sure if i will try to read this though

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    1. Yes, it was a pity that Dempsey didn't talk in more depth about the book, but I did find myself agreeing with most of what the others were saying about it. Reading it is like a relationship- amazing at first but then it wears thin. I gave up almost half way through and now I'm inspired to give it another go. I've got some holidays coming up so we'll see. Couldn't read it five times though!

      Is that you annabel?

      Thanks for commenting...

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    2. i have read his biography and another book that was a transcript of a rolling stone interview and one thing i can say about him is he was sincere and the whole book was ached over and everything was there for a reason.

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    3. How long did it take him to write?

      I'm going to try and finish it.

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    4. years i think and a year just to edit...

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