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The Pale King Paperback – 5 Apr 2012

4.0 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin (5 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141046732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141046730
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 2.5 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 41,507 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Product Description

Review

One of the strangest, saddest, most haunting things I've ever read (Guardian)

Breathtakingly brilliant, funny, maddening and elegiac (The New York Times)

Innovative, penetrating, forcefully intelligent fiction like Wallace's arrives once in a generation, if that (Daily Telegraph)

In a different dimension to the tepid vapidities that pass as novels these days. Sentence for sentence, almost word for word, Wallace could out-write any of his peers (Scotland on Sunday)

Rich and substantial and alive . . . Wallace's finest work as a novelist (Time)

A transfixing and hyper-literate descent into relentless, inescapable despair . . . achingly funny, nothing short of sublime (Publishers Weekly)

The Pale King contains what's sure to be some of the finest fiction of the year . . . he was the closest thing we had to a recording angel (GQ)

Sometimes as a critic the most important part of your job is to say: here, this is it, we've found it, someone's doing it. That someone was Wallace. He was the real thing (Evening Standard)

The Pale King gave me a pleasure and excitement that I can describe only as biological. That is to say, the book produced in me that very rare, warm, head-to-toe tingling that comes with admission to a paradise of language and intelligence (Joseph O' Neill The Times)

Remarkable (Jonathan Derbyshire New Statesman)

Everyone who cares about literature should buy it (The Age)

About the Author

David Foster Wallace, who died in 2008, was the author of the acclaimed novels Infinite Jest and The Broom of the System and the short-story collections Oblivion, Brief Interviews with Hideous Men and Girl with Curious Hair. His non-fiction includes several essay collections and the full-length work Everything and More.


Customer Reviews

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Top Customer Reviews

By Asphodelia VINE VOICE on 5 Jun. 2011
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
How do you review a book that was never meant to be read in its current form? Where do you start? How do you know? "The Pale King" was left as a neat pile of papers as a final gift by DFW to his wife Karen; a kind legacy, a bitter suicide `gift'. The manuscript was by no means a coherent, complete piece of work and as we learn from the introduction to "The Pale King", Michael Pietsch, DFW's editor, had to sift through the debris in an attempt to join the dots. So this is what we have: "The Pale King: A Book that DFW, Maybe".

Revolving around the world of the IRS - the US tax office - "The Pale King" is fundamentally a book about boredom. For over 500 pages, this novel deals with the endless tedium of the modern worker; the alienation, the total absence of meaning. Even the luckiest among us will have, at some point, have experienced the soul-crushing effects of being trapped into the time-reversing vortex of boring work. For some of you, it might now only be the distant memory of a summer job; for others, and I sadly belong to the latter category, the above is a description of pretty much our entire working life.

If the thought of reading about Tax Assessors is already filling you with terror, I would call it a justified reaction. There are parts of this novel that are undeniably boring - making "The Pale King" a sort of `meta-novel' that bores the reader into understanding boredom. Characters describe long and abstruse administrative procedures; a handful of pages are devoted to explaining the intricate, arcane mechanisms of taxation.

Other parts - starting with the opening Section 1- are of pure, undiluted lyrical beauty.
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Format: Hardcover
This is the most boring and also the funniest book I've read in ages. If that sounds an unlikely combination - well it's an unlikely book. The fact that it's unfinished explains the lack of plot, structure and narrative. I guess the fact that Wallace is a great writer must be the explanation for many of the fragments collected here being fascinating, thought-provoking and very funny.

The book is concerned with the US tax authority (IRS), and takes the form of a series of stories and anecdotes told by or about various characters who work there. The work of examining tax returns is described as the most boring job on earth - boredom and how to handle it is a major theme in the book. I have a personal interest here as I work for the UK tax authority and I could see parallels between some of the situations described and my own experience.

Some sections of the book really are quite dull and boring. At least some of the time this is deliberate - after all, the book is about boredom, and I think Wallace was trying to get the reader into the swing of this. I confess I skipped over some of the worst bits though - maybe he'd have toned this down a little if he'd finished it. Other sections provide some great characterisations and funny stories. The funniest bit for me was a story about the introduction of a progressive sales tax in Illinois in the seventies (reading this back I realise that doesn't sound like it would be funny but believe me it is). I had to Google it to check if it was a real or fictional anecdote (it's fictional).

So - although I skipped through some boring bits I enjoyed it and it made me laugh. The guy obviously had talent and I'd have liked to read the finished version.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Read David Foster Wallace and you find yourself ushered into the elite of contemporaty fiction. Literary types tend to mention his name in hushed tones. True, any reader who likes a plot, or an ending even, may as well forget it. This book was pulled together from fragments when the manucript was discovered following the author's death. It is indeed a mosaic of detours and diversions and digressions. But let's not come over all reverential. The Pale King is laugh-out-loud funny. Take the old lady on a commuter jet trying to break into the packaging of her complimentary nuts on page 2. And the central story itself about the unique brand of heroism needed to survive the tedium of firstly qualifying for, and then working in, the US tax service is splendidly arch. All done in an oral style, profane and colloquial and not remotely stuffy. If you liked Jonathan Franzen's Freedom you should enjoy the Pale King. Franzen does plot better, but DFW is, in my view, closer to genius.
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Format: Kindle Edition
If you strip away the veneer of the plot about the ennui that infests the world of IRS tax employees, you get, what I believe, is the real story that Wallace was attempting, the boredom that writers must tolerate when putting one word after another to capture the right tone and rhythm of getting a character to move from a sofa to a door. Only a serious novelist knows how much effort goes into what takes five seconds to read. Wallace deserves a Nobel. He's the 'Norman Vincent Peale' for all fiction writers.
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Format: Hardcover
Subtitled, "An Unfinished Novel," The Pale King startles by being so exceedingly unfinished. This isn't Kafka's The Trial, a largely complete novel; this is a very bare bones sketch of a work still in its infancy.

The Pale King should not be dismissed as worthless, however. Wallace's gift for writing means just about everything he finished is worth the effort required to read it. Loosely connected though many chapters may be there are still some gems here - chapter six, also published in the New Yorker, is extremely tender, almost heartbreakingly so; chapter 22's one hundred sprawl is as interesting as any of the author's previous maximalist prose.

However, there are many other chapters in this book that are a single page long and don't bring anything to the story apart from obvious humour. There are also longer sections that hint at greater details and revelations but, due to the unfinished nature of the novel, are ultimately meaningless. The novel's two longest chapters are a combined 160 pages. In a book that isn't even 550 pages long those two sections account for over a quarter of the novel - that shows how unbalanced this work is.

Michael Pietsch has no doubt done the best job with what the author left behind. This book is a jumble of characters, storylines and random pages with flashes of brilliance. Yet the hagiography that surrounds Wallace should not cloud the fact that this is far from finished and a novel that exhibits the expected shortcomings of any incomplete work. It's a good book that I enjoyed reading, but it's no final masterpiece and anyone looking for insights into the author and his end can find greater illumination in his other works. Only for established fans of the author, it's still a great joy that these pages have been published.
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