The Pale King

David Foster Wallace

The Pale King

David Foster Wallace's final, unfinished novel ... The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Centre in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has. 3.8 out of 5 based on 13 reviews
The Pale King

Omniscore:

Classification Fiction
Genre General Fiction
Format Hardback
Pages 560
RRP £20.00
Date of Publication April 2011
ISBN 978-0241144800
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
 

David Foster Wallace's final, unfinished novel ... The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Centre in Peoria, Illinois, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

Reviews

The Financial Times

Hari Kunzru

… The Pale King, which seems light-years beyond Infinite Jest, is somehow more powerful for being fragmentary … like one of the broken columns beloved of Romantic painters, The Pale King will stand, complete in its incompleteness, as his most substantial fictional achievement.

15/04/2011

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The Daily Telegraph

Tim Martin

The important thing is that this doesn’t feel like an unfinished book … [it] teems with erudition and ideas, with passages of stylistic audacity, with great cheerful thrown-out gags, goofy puns and moments of truly arresting clarity.

15/04/2011

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The Observer

Michael Sayeau

Stunning ... To my mind, The Pale King isn't really a novel about the Reagan-era tax cuts, as some have claimed, but rather about another more abstract yet pervasively significant political trend that came into its own during that era. Since Reagan's presidency (like Thatcher's reign in the UK, as well as their ideological descendents around the world), government, and in particular its bureaucratic face, has been a target for politicians of nearly every stripe ... Against the grain of our times, The Pale King stands as a sustained and incredibly convincing advertisement on behalf of government itself – at least its inner workings, the back office types tasked with ensuring fairness, justice and the distribution of vital services.

24/04/2011

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The Guardian

James Lasdun

For all his baroque plotting, Wallace was generally more interesting at the level of the part than the whole. You go to him for the self-contained, usually comic, often staggeringly grotesque riffs and routines at which he excelled, rather than some sustained Jamesian evolution of story out of character. The provisional nature of The Pale King adds to this montage-like effect. You move through it as if through some mildly phantasmagorical gallery, making your own connections as you wander along.

16/04/2011

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The Independent on Sunday

Archie Bland

If, as well as [its] scattered brilliance, there are some sections that are too diffuse, and a sense that Wallace hadn't yet grasped how to make the whole thing hang together, it's hard to feel disappointed. This is our final communication from a voice that is as inescapable as it is irreplaceable. That it is fragmentary only makes the pieces we have seem more valuable.

17/04/2011

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The Literary Review

Keith Miller

The book’s genius is in the light and understated way that this process of enlightenment through immersion is not only made readable, but also made to fit in with wider themes: on the one hand, politics and American civic life ... and, on the other, the absorption in another that we call love.

01/04/2011

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The Spectator

Sam Leith

The obvious paradox, and it is not just a triumph of style but a vindication of his moral project, is that Wallace was writing a book about boredom that is not in the least boring. It is frequently — though seldom for long — demanding. It wants you to pay attention (you often learn in a footnote or an aside who the subject of a given chapter is). And it rewards you abundantly for doing so.

16/04/2011

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The London Review of Books

Jenny Turner

… the work just seems so obviously unfinished: brilliant, certainly, but also dim and fudgy in places; ideas laboriously reworked and repeated, stuck behind some not-yet-comprehended block; writing that hasn’t found its way yet; an author who hasn’t quite found the right angle to make the writing catch light. Which wouldn’t be surprising, given the circumstances; but it does raise the question of what we think we’re reading it for.

14/04/2011

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The New York Times

Michiko Kakutani

By turns breathtakingly brilliant and stupefying dull … the novel sometimes feels like the TV show "The Office” as rewritten with a magnifying glass by Nicholson Baker.

31/03/2011

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The New Statesman

Jonathan Derbyshire

Few novelists have taken as seriously as Wallace the obligation to write truthfully about the way we live today. And, as [his editor, Michael] Pietsch says, even in an unfinished, uneven novel such as this, the products of that seriousness are "spectacular".

20/04/2011

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The Independent

Nat Segnit

… frequently brilliant and unfailingly daring … Wallace's has always been an ungovernable talent, and arguably only in Infinite Jest does it submit to the restraints of the novel, and then only just — the frayed mass of unresolved plotlines testifying at the very least to an impatience with conventional form. One of the reasons that The Pale King makes for such a sad, and fascinating, read is that this impatience appears to have shaded into disenchantment.

15/04/2011

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Times Literary Supplement

Robert Potts

There are passages here which display the masterful comic touches and moving ethical probing that Wallace’s readers admire; and the more developed characters, especially the possibly sociopathic Toni Ware, are gripping, if inconsistently drawn. But, as a novel, The Pale King is nowhere near to being a finished work. From the internal evidence, it is clear why David Foster Wallace was having insuperable difficulties in making it one.

15/04/2011

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The Sunday Times

Theo Tait

Wallace, in short, is a fairly maddening writer. His career illustrates an intriguing paradox: that it is possible for an American novelist to have a mighty critical reputation and to sell books in large numbers — while being pretty unreadable, and indeed unread on a huge scale (I know only one person who claims to have finished Infinite Jest). And The Pale King seems to me, like its predecessors, to be fundamentally wrong-headed, a deeply unserious endeavour undertaken in a deeply serious fashion — or perhaps it is vice versa, I find it hard to tell. Which is not to say that Wallace’s reputation is undeserved. On the contrary, I would say he is almost certainly a genius.

17/04/2011

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