Claudia's Reviews > Wittgenstein's Mistress

Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson
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's review
Dec 12, 2013

liked it
Read from December 04 to 11, 2013

Two readers I truly respect have said or written great things about this book (famously, David Foster Wallace), and not famously, my bookseller friend Carole), so I was curious. Indeed, Wallace has written a long essay about it (which appears in his collection Both Flesh and Not: Essays), which I deliberately skipped until I'd had time to read it on my own.

I can see why it attracted them. It's odd, and playful, and stylistically bravura in a way that doesn't come along often (the "plot" isn't exactly the main point). It's repetitive, but in an intentionally looping way, as the narrator remembers and misremembers and adapts particular stories. The basic idea of this woman being so mad and alone is terribly sad, but at the same time it's weirdly entertaining to watch the stories mutate as they go.

I can almost see this as a parlor game; competitive readers tracking the references to art, literature, music, and baseball, noting the twists and combinations. "How many did you catch?" I'm sure I missed bunches, but I caught enough to be able to enjoy myself.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of the misremembering parts really do become funny, in sort of a Yogi-Berra-ish way. I do love William Gaddis, but as a lifelong fan, I particularly liked the running confusion about baseball. The misunderstood book title reminded me of one of my favorite bits from Pale Fire, in which Kinbote similarly fails to grasp the headline "Red Sox Beat Yanks 5-4 on Chapman's Homer," thinking it's a reference to a Keats sonnet (which is actually about George Chapman's translations of Homer). I also liked the little plays on players' names (Campy Stengel was a nice twofer).

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