Infinite Jest Paperback – 5 Jun. 1997
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Wallace is a superb comedian of culture . . . his exuberance and intellectual impishness are a delight, James Woods, GUARDIAN
He induces the kind of laughter which, when read in bed with a sleeping partner, wakes said sleeping partner up . . . He's damn good, Nicholas Lezard, GUARDIAN
One of the best books about addiction and recovery to appear in recent memory., SUNDAY TIMES
'Ambitious, accomplished, deeply humorous, brilliant and witty and moving. A literary sensation' Independent
With a foreword by Dave Eggers
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I have read a number of books of a similar length, so upwards of 500k words or 1300 pages, namely, Gravitys Rainbow by Pynchon (laugh out loud funny!), Ulysses by Joyce (awful and felt like a torture, took almost a year to read I hated it so much!), War and Peace (deep and profound and philosophical, I feel I was too young, at 16, to truly understand its real themes), Atlas Shrugged by Rand (read most recently in just 6 weeks and my god was it preachy and needed an editor, desperately!) and it was Infinite Jest (a direct quote from Hamlet, 'a fellow of infinite jest') which I read in 5 months which I enjoyed the most.
This is a thoroughly post-modern novel and books being a form of entertainment, is going full meta by being about the nature of entertainment itself.
It present a world of a tennis academy, the nature of addiction, a dystopian future in which Mexico and the States and Canada united together into what DFW calls ONAN (Organisation of North American Nations). Canada, in this vision of the future, is a nuclear wasteland, where there prowl giant feral mutant rats, while Quebecois separatists are assassinating their enemies via a very unique style - by giving them a copy of a film on a VHS tape called, appropriately, 'The Entertainment' which the person puts into their VCR player and watches on loop until they die of malnutrition/exhaustion imposed on them by their inability to stop watching such a compellingly, addictively, entertaining film.
DFW riffs on this theme in an earlier essay called 'De Unibus Pluram' (which you can find online for free) which was written on the back of the statistics, at the back-end of the 1980s, that the average American household spends 6 hours a day watching TV (it's probably considerably longer, 3 decades on!)
So if you like the essay, I'd suggest you get the book.
It is incredibly fresh and laugh out loud funny in an enormous amount of places. Once thing that will probably annoy people who buy the physical books are the endless footnotes and endnotes (some running for 10 pages and often having footnotes to the footnotes!) which are integral to the plot and for which you will probably require a separate bookmark at the back of the book to refer to. I read this book digitally and it very helpfully has hyperlinks allowing you to jump to the footnotes/endnotes and back to the main text at will. I suspect this book is a lot harder to read in physical form and there are some reviews that say they had to break the spice of the book to separate the final 150 pages - which is the footnotes, as otherwise, it is very difficult to read this novel.
This novel is broadly about the nature of modern entertainment, addiction, tennis, drugs and a whole lot else.
It is hilariously funny and self-aware. DFW is possibly the greatest fiction writer (and definitely THE greatest non-fiction writer) of his generation and he was a person who was both exceptionally smart and talented (at Amherst he was doing 2 dissertations simultaneously, one on philosophy and one on creative writing, the latter being published as The Broom of The System, his first novel, when most of his peers were struggling with just 1). He has written extensively on all sorts of topics, from AVN awards to lobsters in Maine, to tennis, Terminator 2, philosophy and mathematics (see his book Everything and More) and I am sure I am not doing justice to the sheer breadth of the things that he writes about with refreshing candour and incredible humour.
He was also a tragic figure, hanging himself when changing anti-depressants in 2008. He did though, leave behind a hugely impressive body of work and Infinite Jest, in my opinion, having read everything he has written over the years, is his crowning glory. It is the most fun book of this length that I have ever read.
As somebody who had to give up alcohol through recovery, the sections of the book concerning itself with AA is absolutely 200% accurate and my understanding is that DFW in fact spent many hours/days sitting through AA meetings and absorbing the fellowship's take on addiction and its trigger factors. It really reads like he knows exactly what goes on there - as he really did, in real life.
DFW was a complex figure and there is a strong argument to be made that his best work, is, in fact, his NON-fiction (a supposedly funny thing I'll never do again, aboard a luxury cruise liner, will always remain the funniest bit of non-fiction I have ever read!). But in this humble reviewer's opinion, Infinite Jest, for its sheer scope, refreshing honestly, spot on observations and dialogue and just satire and humour - will push it close.
DFW is one of the greatest minds of his generation, yet he writes in such an accessible manner in all his work so as to become something much, much more than just another crusty intellectual, speaking down to us to, plebs, from his high horse. I believe what he really is - he is a voice of his generation (80s and 90s) - and Infinite Jest is a testament to that.
Of all the long, classic books, that people read (or more often take selfies with to show off their nauseating 'intellectualism' on Instagram - rather than actually read), think War and Peace, Atlas Shrugged, Capital In the 21st Century, The Brothers Karamazov, Anna Karenina, Finnegan's Wake, Ulysses etc and so forth, this is BY FAR the most fun book of its length and type.
Infinite Jest is both sad, depressed and funny and even 25 years after it was published (in 1994) remains relevant to the modern age. In fact, its take on the very nature of entertainment itself perhaps foresaw the age of vanity and social media, as seen through the prisms of Tinder, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
The end result is a triumph for a tragic figure who left us far too soon. His legacy, as both an acute observer and reader of people in his non fiction as he is in his fiction - is absolutely secure, and will remain so for a long time to come.
I don't know to what extent DFW can pass for 'one of us, a man of the people' given his fairly privileged upbringing of being the son of 2 university professors (one in philosophy, one in English, and hence being exposed to both subjects from birth, pretty much) but the way he writes certainly speaks to his audience in a way that few writers (fiction, non-fiction and every shade in between) every succeed in doing.
I would recommend it to a friend even though that carries a 50/50 chance they will get mad at me for doing so, it is a slog but on finishing it I can't wait to read it again - the surest sign of a great book. The exhaustive footnotes and overused slang was a little off putting at first, but I think it is warranted as Wallace wanted to try something new and ambitious here. While the form itself is post-modern, the message he carries is as old as can be, the main crux of D. Gately's struggle being accepting the no nonsense truths that are buried within cliche. Something that didn't quite work for me was reading characters like the endearing Gately, who are written as distinctly non academic types, yet tend to have an inner dialogue of an anxiety ridden intellectual, but perhaps like Joelle remarks in one conversation with him he was 'not as dumb as he pretends to be'.
Once I had warmed to it, the encyclopedic style was an enjoyable a part of the book, Wallace wants the reader to work a bit in order to encourage engagement - reading him in interviews with his not quite manifesto as an anti-ironist, you get the impression that his persona in IJ is not so much the younger Inc. Hal, but the elder James - and here again the entwined darkness of the novel and author's life sours my enjoyment... But there are strong allusions throughout to the Bros Karamazov (as well as Hamlet from which we get the title) - another book of my favourites that I am aware is just as dark. The non chronology and quirky satirical jab of subsidised time, have a disorientating effect on things, which like the footnotes and slang, once you get used to just seems normal, but I am not sure (with the exception of the first chapter) it ever justifies itself.
To make use of another cliché: we often critise in others what we dislike in ourselves. And it comes to mind towards the end of the book as the reader begins to realise Wallace will not be providing something so trite as an ending. Wallace was opposed to the detached cynicism and irony of his generation which is commendable, though his own addiction was tv rather than opiates - yet he writes a heavily ironical novel, was this a deliberate way to appeal to the people he wanted to reach, or simply something he could not escape from?
Having read the Pale King previously is why , because of the mainly good reviews of Infinite Jest, is why I was drawn to read it.
Top international reviews
David Foster Wallace tem um domínio incrível da língua inglesa e da capacidade analítica, especialmente dos temas de vício, entretenimento, solidão e falta de empatia, nos quais este livro está fundado. O seu maior talento, contudo, é ligar esses temas entre si, criando um quadro complexo e belo (ainda que desesperador de vez em quando) do mundo que nos cerca, ou gestalt, como ele prefere chamar. Por isso, nenhum resumo o faz justiça.
Este livro é exaustivo, como uma montanha a ser escalada. Nunca vai pelo caminho mais curto, e faz você se perguntar se isso tudo não é supérfluo, mas assim como numa escalada, no momento que você chega ao topo é recompensado com uma visão de mundo nova e faz valer a pena cada passo dado até ali, fazendo você se perguntar quão diferente será sua visão do mundo daqui pra frente².
¹ Que por sua vez são completamente brilhantes e diversas, desde um simples "No clue" até notas de 9 páginas com suas próprias notas de rodapé.
² No clue.
And the book, whereas not exactly a novel but a certain stroke of genius.
If you decide to tackle Infinite Jest, brush up on your history and there is a imagery drawn to Hamlet so knowing the story of the play would be good.
This is the kind of book that is meant to be read over months. I love books like this.
The passages concerning drug addiction and full-blown alcoholism are truly gripping and down right horrifying.
Not even Malcolm Lowry's "Under The Volcano" succeeds in conveying the utter desperation and helplessness of the chronic alcoholic to such a degree as David Foster Wallace does in "Infinite Jest".
Wallace had a a rather morbid sense of humor and is often extremely funny in a dark sort of here here.
While i found myself getting bored with some lengthy passages of the novel, overall this novel is worth the effort. With a good editor it could have been even better.
The only downside to this is that the kindle edition is a poor facsimile of the hard copy, with numerous typesetting errors which compromise the flow and comprehension of Wallace's work (including: incorrectly formatted footnotes, a broken header in the middle of pg. 535, page breaks in the middle of numerous stanzas; a result of the publishers entirely arbitrary approach to ebook formatting and the limitations of a book without distinct chapters, attaching the stand alone footnote links on pgs. 787 and 795 to the end of the preceding paragraphs - a fact which confused me to no end both times I came across it - and incorrect typesetting on pg. 952 where Wallace uses unique character spacing in the print edition that isn't reflected in the ebook).
The ebook is of course eminently more manageable than the print edition as you don't need to flip back and forth between footnotes, and a kindle is positively svelte compared to Wallace's printed tome. The x-ray features alongside the kindle edition make the ebook the most accessible version of Wallace's text for first time readers. It's just upsetting that Hachette have displayed such a fundamental lack of respect towards fidelity in translating the print edition into an ebook version. A serious reader of Wallace owes it to themselves to purchase the print edition until these problems are rectified.
For most part of the book my reaction was “OMG I can't believe I'm reading something so good”. What I found great is Wallace's ability to divert from any kind of main narrative and to follow lateral paths at length. It's like in real life: there is no protagonist or hierarchy – things just happen, and behind every event or every person you meet there's a full story to tell.
Characters are lovely. In spite of the whole discourse of disenchanted postmodernism, the author shows genuine compassion and empathy for his creatures, though the line between chronicle and satire is often blurred. I preferred by far the first part of the book (where various apparently unrelated stories are told) over the second part (where those stories come together). And as well as many other readers, I found the ending slightly disappointing. I had the impression that when the book comes towards an end compassion gives way to cynicism, as if Wallace felt the duty to remind us he's a postmodernist after all.
Overall, it remains a great novel – funny and moving.
Hope Amazon updates the edition to the better standard edition(the one with blue background and clouds in cover)
Hope Amazon updates the edition, my eyes are paining after reading this one for 10 minutes.
The characters were fallible, brilliant and lovable; the plot, ridiculous and engaging; the social commentary, spot-on.
Also, now that I've finished this book, I feel like I can read anything, and that it takes no time at all!