An Infinite Jest Odyssey [1]

The only things I know about this book are through the YouTube videos of Sailing La Vagabonde (Riley is a massive fan of Foster Wallace) and from the film The End of Tour (which I have wrote about – https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/02/07/the-end-of-the-tour-inspiration/).  Cult author David Foster Wallace was an interesting character and so this book is a way into his mind more than anything.  It is a mammoth, clocking in at over 1000 pages and the foreword by Dave Eggers is a warning of how tough it is.  That sounds like the perfect kind of novel to write about, and I’m hoping it works out better than War & Peace did.

Pages 3 – 55

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This book has a unique chapter setup, where they are short, and basically all called the same thing.  Consequently 55 pages may not seem like a lot, but it has felt like a journey already. The text is precise and full of description, making each line incredibly dense with information. However it is still beautifully written, and reminds me of the other great American novels that I have read, such as The Great Gatsby or One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest. The narrative is disjointed and confusing, probably purposefully so in a sort of post-modern way.  It appears that Wallace is picking out parts of the story and jumbling them up, and that makes it jarring but enjoyable, in a Pulp Fiction kind of way. From this Wallace presents moments, instead of a series of them, and tells them with an effective comedic tone.  It comes across as him poking fun at the situation whilst also mind-numbing you with exaggerated scientific terms.  I’m pretty much hooked on the book already and I want to read more of it; I’m just not sure if re-telling the plot will ever be possible.  As far as I can tell we are sometime in the near future, and it is a balance of stories between different characters with different problems.  The world is perhaps somewhat breaking and at the centre we have Harold Incandenza, a tennis protege, who is equally conflicted as he is genius.

Wallace is aware of his skill and his use of similes is remarkable.  An example of this would be, on page 5: “My chest bumps like a dryer with shoes in it”.  Now this is beautifully observant, but shows the uniqueness and oddity of the book.  Wallace constantly drifts off into a bizarre realm, yet keeps his writing poignant and stylistic. The humour and wit is what keeps surprising me, and at the top of page 12 Hal says: “I do things like get in the taxi and say, the libary and step on it”.  I found myself chuckling at this, and this whole chapter is one of the most intriguing.  It is a conversational exchange that is both funny and challenging, leading up to the climax that shows the first themes of loss in the book.  There are some parts of this first 55 pages that I cant’t get my head around, like the technical terms that are completely made up by Wallace.  Despite this, as I’ve said, the characteristics of the writing is brilliant enough to keep me going at this point.

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What I’m loving most about the book is that it is coming together like all my favourite novels, and on top of it has this layer of Wallace individuality.  I would recommend it to anyone who is a lover of fiction, or has studied English Literature, and can understand the intricacies of the storytelling.  Overall I’m thinking about the book a lot, which is exactly what I wanted.

Side-note:  I bought a second hand copy of this book, and when I unwrapped it, a German trivial pursuit card fell out of it.  It is like the start of a great mystery.

A War & Peace Odyssey [3]

Second edition: https://insiderobbie.wordpress.com/2017/03/27/a-war-peace-odyssey-2/

I have given up

Somewhere in the middle of the second part of the novel I realised I wasn’t enjoying it, and not in a necessarily bad way.  I greatly appreciate the books brilliance and it’s certainly an easy read, I just don’t know what I’m getting out of it.  The mountain feels climbed to me, and I’m sitting at the top anxious to go back down.

The truth is, I have a found a new book to agonise over, Infinite Jest.  It feels closer to me and a more intense experience, so expect an Odyssey on that not long after this has posted.

A War & Peace Odyssey [1]

Odyssey definition: a long wandering or voyage usually marked by many changes of fortune.

I’m not going on an Odyssey, I’m reading a book.  War & Peace by Leo Tolstoy is one of the most celebrated novels of all time.  Being the annoying vacuum of culture that I am, I decided I would give it a go.  I use the term Odyssey because the thought of this book is terrifying.  It is 1200 page long story about Russian nobility during the height of Napoleon Bonoparte’s European dominance.  Thankfully, I caught the BBC version of it last year, and it gave me the courage to buy and now read the mammoth novel.  What I’m going to try and do on here is breakdown the book, for my own benefit and also to hopefully show that this book is not scary at all.

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Part One: Pages 1-112

I am so glad I watched the BBC television version before reading this.  It means that I can put names to faces and remembering characters is much easier.  And remembering the characters is key.  It’s key because Tolstoy bounces around between them and of course they all have long Russian names.  Though each character is carefully designed to be recognised when they appear.  For example, Pierre, the most protagonist like is described as overweight and unattractive, as well as been easily noticed by his bold political views. The princes and princesses each have their own traits and this allows Tolstoy to separate their stories from one another.  With that being said, I was surprised by how interwoven the characters are and how close together the situations are.  It seems to flow from one dinner party to the next, making the narrative tight.  However the universe is clearly expansive in its issues as the dialogue between the players is very complex.  They are mostly discussing Napoleons advancements and this opens up conversations about politics during wartime.  It’s as interesting as it is hard to pick apart and so far I’m really enjoying the book.  The first part is a simple read and I’m starting to fall down the rabbit hole of Russian nobility of the early 19th century.