Bram's Reviews > Infinite Jest

Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace
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's review
May 10, 2009

really liked it
bookshelves: 2009

Take a look at the reviewer quotes on and within this book. Most of them extol DFW’s brilliance—as they should. He’s obviously brilliant; it oozes from the pages. And yet a writer’s intellectual fortitude does not a masterpiece make, and I’m not convinced that Infinite Jest is a faultless harnessing of the man’s genius (although is any book really?). That said, this novel is very, very good.

For some reason, I feel an overwhelming need to explain why I’m giving this book four starts instead of five, which is pretty unusual since I consider four stars to signify a great book. Perhaps I feel a bit guilty because I’ve given out a (in)decent number of five-star reviews already this year. So I’ll go on record as giving Infinite Jest four and a half stars. There, I feel better already. I don’t know why but with revered, sprawling epics (e.g.War and Peace or even newer buzz-books like 2666), there is some unspoken expectation or pressure to either declare them masterpieces or to register some pretty significant disappointment. Maybe it’s because these types of books are just so long that any annoyances get stretched out and multiplied or, by the same rule, the pleasures get extended and compounded. Maybe it’s the hype. Or maybe it’s just my own weird issue.

Nevertheless, I’m going to shrug off this apparently self-induced pressure to make any excessively strong claims about Infinite Jest. I think I’m going to keep my positive comments to a minimum, partly because there wasn’t any single aspect (or combined aspects) that really blew me away on a gut level or inspired me to effusive evangelizing. There were a couple stand-out scenes for sure—Eschaton, The Fight, Barry Loach’s story. And I enjoyed reading it throughout, never once regretting the decision to lug such a beast around on my IJ-appropriate B Green Line commute. I never felt that the story had become tedious, which is an incredible feat in and of itself when you’re dealing with such a description-heavy book that mostly takes place over just a couple of weeks. Wallace does a great job balancing the different and occasionally-crossing story lines. His empathy is both abundant and restrained, but occasionally overly self-aware—see, for instance, Gately’s visits to Mrs. Waite: DFW bends over backwards to avoid making Don G’s actions/motivations too laudable, as if he’s afraid of getting called out for being manipulative or sappy. At times it felt as if you could see DFW’s wheels turning, attempting to cleverly protect his cleverness from accusations of pretension.

This touches on what is probably my most serious criticism of the book: the self-awareness that can surface a little too noticeably. I mentioned this in my half-way review below, but I get the feeling that DFW tried to familiarize or even “dumb down” some of the writing (and I’m not talking about dialogue here) with “like”, “kind of”, etc. as a way to balance or correct for the occasional tendency to show off (mostly with vocabulary or math-smarts). Based on a couple interviews I’ve read (see MFSO’s links below), he regularly struggled with this desire to showcase his talents or to use clever tricks. But really, who can blame him? Another major self-criticism, mentioned in an interview a few years prior to IJ’s publication, is his penchant for writing sentences that are technically correct but “a bitch to read.” Because there are plenty of these in the book, and since it is silly to believe that these types of sentences could be included unintentionally, I find this self-criticism to be a little disingenuous. These aren’t the types of difficult but beautiful sentences you’d find in Proust or Woolf. They’re a bitch to read because they’re sometimes, well, ugly (examples include things like putting “it’s its” together or including awkward repetitiveness within a sentence). Anti-aesthetic might be a better way to put it. But perhaps this is appropriate after all, since it riffs on a significant theme/jest within the novel itself re: Jim's apres-garde movies. Of course, the prose is mostly very enjoyable and rarely becomes distracting, but taken as a whole or in small chunks, the writing didn’t really give me that “click” or “buzz”. Maybe it’s just that the two aforementioned authors have turned me into a total aesthetics whore (and a very specific type at that), but I guess I just prefer reading prose that flows a little more pretty-like. And this is where the subjective really comes in, but it was when I picked up To the Lighthouse halfway through reading this that I realized IJ just wasn’t a five-star book for me. Ultimately, it’s as simple as that.

I did enjoy the cognitively dissonant joke (or jest) of including character-appropriate misspellings/mispronunciations of words…which would never have been in their vocabularies in the first place. It's like an illogically annular and drawn out Catch-22: word not in vocabulary-->so…corruption of word-->hence the misuse/ misspelling-->because…word not in vocabulary-->corruption of the word-->etc. Proclavity (sic). Tittymount (sic). Ebubblient (sic). And there's also the substituting of easier words for incorrect but usually more difficult words (e.g. disparaging in place of discouraging). Good stuff. But to continue the discussion of self-awareness, something that troubled me a little was DFW’s insistence on using racial and gay slurs while writing the thoughts of certain characters (mainly Gately), even when he writes the majority of their thought processes out of character (i.e. using complex intellectual analysis and highfalutin language). The self-aware footnotes come to the fore here, as DFW makes multiple attempts to explain/justify this move. But after you realize that he isn’t always going for realistic thought processes, this comes across as a pretty cheap way to jog the reader’s memory that this person is unsophisticated and of a certain background. So while I suppose it serves that characterization purpose, I’d be interested in hearing someone defend this decision. My question is: why not use some other method to remind the readers, rather than insisting Gately doesn’t know any other words for black people (a preposterous claim in the age of television)? Ok, ok so this review is starting to make it seem like I was disappointed with the book. I wasn’t. These are just the very few minor quibbles I had, and I’ll definitely be picking up more DFW at some point.

When I finally shut the book for the last time, I was left with an odd, anesthetized feeling. The ending kind of reminded me of Lolita’s finale somehow. There’s the same subdued desperation exploding into violence and cruel detail; a lose-lose hopelessness that cages the protagonists. For whatever reason, though, the ending seems very much beyond the point and mostly incongruous with the tone of the book as a whole. I think that this quote from Joelle’s interview near the end sums up the novel and/or DFW as well as anything:

Lenses Jim said were what he had to bring to the whole enterprise. Of filmmaking. Of himself. He made all his own.

Based on my experiences with IJ and This is Water, this concept of making and choosing the lenses with which you view others, with which you view life in general, is DFW’s primary thematic and moral grounding. It’s far too large a topic to delve into here, but in short, I think this book is a wonderful testament to hope, or as the Boston metro AAers (and The Dude) would say—to Abiding.

Half-way review:

Manny's Infinite Jest review inspired me to give a pre-finished update, although I'm not quite ambitious enough to provide more than this halfway offering. As the book is so long, it also makes sense to do this since any commentary I may have within me at this point will likely dissipate into the glorious late spring Boston air by the time I’m finished with this behemoth. I’d like to start by dispelling an Infinite Jest myth, which may have just been my own unjustified pre-read presumption. Rather than being overly abtruse or obtuse, the storyline(s) are actually pretty conventional and engaging. Based on the numerous professional (and less-so) reviews and articles, I was expecting something highly digressive and complicated, perhaps bordering on the inscrutable. Postmodern, Pynchon-esque, and c. What I have found is a surprisingly coherent and undisputedly novelish story with sentence structure nowhere near as complicated as I had imagined during my pre-read fantasies. The beginning may be a tad disorienting since DFW just dives right in, but it soon becomes clear that we have 3 storylines that occasionally intersect (Incandenza/ETA, Gately/Ennet House, and Marathe/Steeply/AFRs) with some side tangents that are always a little less tangential than they first appear. Perhaps reading 2666 a few months ago changed my scale for what is considered “digressive”, but I’ve found this to be a surprisingly contained (if still enormous and unwieldy), smooth, and enjoyable read thus far. Of course I don’t really know how things are going to play out, so maybe it’s going to be more digressive than DFW’s adumbrations would lead me to believe.

Living in the Boston metro area makes DFW’s setting descriptions an absolute delight to read. I’m not sure how his focus on aspects of Brighton, Allston, Cambridge, Boston, the Green Line (my major mode of transportation), and c. play to those who are not familiar with the area, but for those of us who are, it definitely adds a lot. I also think there is something to be said for conjuring up your own imagery without resorting to photographic memories, and I know that a lack of familiarity with a story’s setting has never impeded my love for a book (19th century Russia, drool). I’m starting to wonder if my love for Infinite Jest would be greater if I wasn’t familiar with the setting. I’d love to hear others’ thoughts on this matter; it is an issue that is certainly not limited to Infinite Jest.

I’m not quite sure what to make of DFW’s narratorial voice. I’m not even sure if narratorial is a word, but if not, then it’s even more appropriate for this hemi-review. As others on this site have pointed out, DFW uses essentially the same voice for the thinking and even the dialogue of many of the characters with a few major (but short) exceptions. Part of me wants to accuse him of laziness, but just looking at the book makes this idea extraordinarily ironic. Whatever his reason for writing this way, it works because this voice is such a joy to read. And it’s kind of funny when you turn to another footnote that says, “obviously Gately didn’t use this word” or whatever. Maybe it would have been a greater challenge for someone as brilliant as DFW to write profoundly within the realistic confines of Don G.’s mental capabilities. But it probably would have been less fun to read. There’s a colloquial casualness to the writing style that still takes me aback even 500 pages in, and I’m not really sure if I, like, totally like it or not. I mean, it’s kind of like off-putting to see le mot “mysticetously” mixed up with 90s slacker jargon. And the cynic in me kind of thinks that DFW used the most like anti-pretentious language possible to avoid accusations of pretention for famously/infamously using hundreds of words mentally available only to the likes of Hal Incandenza. But the aesthetic side of me like totally gets off on it.

I’m not entirely sure what to make of the annulation theme at this point (perhaps it’s not something that can be easily distilled), but one specific instance of it caught my attention and convinced me of DFW’s brilliance. It’s during Marathe’s and Steeply’s extended conversation when Steeply is trying to convince Marathe of the genius of the American way, of the valuation of freedom above all else, the freedom for everyone to make their own choices even if they are utterly pathetic; the avoidance of the authoritarian patriarchy he accuses Marathe of espousing. Basically, he’s defending the American way of life that leads to the pursuit of happiness to the point of ridiculous hedonism, to capitalistic excess. DFW argues pretty convincingly for both sides here, not easily betraying his personal feelings on the matter. Yet during one of their pauses, we get this:

“A bonfire of young persons was burning some k. down away on the desert floor, the flames burning in a seeming ring instead of a sphere” (p. 423).

It’s a subtle nod to the fact that Steeply’s argument is fully annulated (i.e. it follows in a completely connected, rational fashion from it’s premise), yet it is also hollow at its core. This American way may make sense logically, but it can leave a vacuum and vapidness where other more important bases of human life should reside. Perhaps I’m reading too much into it, but the sentence seems too well-placed and too observationally strange to be coincidence. Great stuff—can’t wait for the 2nd half.

This quote from DFW ~10 years ago gets at what I was trying to articulate in the first paragraph above:

"I think it makes at least an in-good-faith attempt to be fun and riveting enough on a page-by-page level so I don't feel like I'm hitting the reader with a mallet, you know, 'Hey, here's this really hard impossibly smart thing. Fuck you. See if you can read it.' I know books like that and they piss me off."

The part in quotes between the quotes is more what I was expecting. Infinite Jest is certainly not "work" in the sense of difficult or painful--it just takes a long time to finish.


I've recently developed a to-read list that has become a tad overwhelming (don't be fooled by the goodreads list, which is short so as to maintain a comforting illusion/delusion). With so many amazing unread books out there being discovered at a pace exceeding my reading rate by about 100X or so, it becomes increasingly difficult to choose what's next. Do I want to read a classic, another modernist, a postmodernist, a post-postmodernist? After reading Dave Eggers introduction to Infinite Jest, I have chosen the latter. While IJ may indeed be most accurately described as postmodern, I have a suspicion after reading excerpts ("Good People", "Wiggle Room") from the forthcoming posthumous The Pale King, as well as coming across some of his quotes about the staleness and restrictions of the form (or formlessness) after 40-odd years of irony and detachment, that DFW will be viewed (if he isn't already) as a seminal literary figure who adumbrated--and more importantly ignited--a post-postmodern focus that eschews detachment in favor of empathy, cynical irony in favor of the kind that circles back toward compassionate sincerity. And all of this while offering fresh holds for grappling with capital-T Truths and avoiding traps of sentimentalism and pedantry.

Anyway, excuse my criminal oversimplification of literary categorization and nomenclature. Back to Eggers' introduction. This is where I was sold into making this my next read:

"Wallace is a different sort of madman, one in full control of his tools, one who instead of teetering on the edge of this precipice or that, under the influence of drugs or alcohol, seems to be heading ever-inward, into the depths of memory and the relentless conjuring of a certain time and place in a way that evokes--it seems so wrong to type this name but then again, so right!--Marcel Proust. There is the same sort of obsessiveness, the same incredible precision and focus, and the same sense that the writer wanted (and arguably succeeds at) nailing the consciousness of an age."

And then, to seal the deal: "It's to be expected that the average age of the new Infinite Jest reader would be about twenty-five." Hey, I'm twenty-five. Time to give this a shot.

Edit: I've also just discovered that The Year of the Depend Adult Undergarment is most likely 2009. It's meant to be.
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Reading Progress

May 10, 2009 – Shelved
May 14, 2009 –
page 121
11.21% "Laughed out loud reading the description of "As Of Yore" (clearly a home video) in Incandenza's filmography."
May 18, 2009 –
page 230
21.32% "Annulation seems to be a major semiotic theme. Looks like I was wrong in my last update-that was a reenactment of Jim's childhood not Hal's"
May 21, 2009 –
page 230
21.32% "The Eschaton scene is priceless."
May 21, 2009 –
page 372
June 1, 2009 –
page 501
June 10, 2009 –
page 620
57.46% "Just got through The Fight--intense."
June 17, 2009 –
page 802
Started Reading
June 23, 2009 – Shelved as: 2009
June 23, 2009 – Finished Reading

Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

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Matthieu Eschaton scene = absolutely marvelous.

Bram Matt wrote: "Eschaton scene = absolutely marvelous."

Yes--and on so many levels. Prophetic war epic, farcical comedy, statistical analysis, and some calculus thrown in via footnote for good measure.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Great points about Wallace's diagnosis of the strengths and weaknesses of "postmodernism." There's a fantastic interview he did in 1991 with Larry McCaffery where this theme is at the center (as it was in several interviews):

Bram Awesome, thanks---(reading it right now in lieu of work).

Bram Wow, awesome interview--thanks MFSO. Lots of IJ thematic echoes in there.

message 6: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jun 01, 2009 11:56AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Glad you enjoyed it. In case you haven't already found it, this is the most comprehensive site/archive of DFW-related...stuff:

message 7: by Bram (last edited Jun 01, 2009 12:08PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks--had not yet found that. This quote from the interview you linked gets right to the heart of what I was trying to say in my pre-review (and I think it's what makes DFW connect so well and so uniquely coming out of postmodernism):

"LM: But at least in the case of "American Psycho" I felt there was something more than just this desire to inflict pain—or that Ellis was being cruel the way you said serious artists need to be willing to be.

DFW: You’re just displaying the sort of cynicism that lets readers be manipulated by bad writing. I think it’s a kind of black cynicism about today’s world that Ellis and certain others depend on for their readership. Look, if the contemporary condition is hopelessly shitty, insipid, materialistic, emotionally retarded, sadomasochistic, and stupid, then I (or any writer) can get away with slapping together stories with characters who are stupid, vapid, emotionally retarded, which is easy, because these sorts of characters require no development. With descriptions that are simply lists of brand-name consumer products. Where stupid people say insipid stuff to each other. If what’s always distinguished bad writing—flat characters, a narrative world that’s cliched and not recognizably human, etc.—is also a description of today’s world, then bad writing becomes an ingenious mimesis of a bad world. If readers simply believe the world is stupid and shallow and mean, then Ellis can write a mean shallow stupid novel that becomes a mordant deadpan commentary on the badness of everything. Look man, we’d probably most of us agree that these are dark times, and stupid ones, but do we need fiction that does nothing but dramatize how dark and stupid everything is? In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness. Really good fiction could have as dark a worldview as it wished, but it’d find a way both to depict this world and to illuminate the possibilities for being alive and human in it. You can defend "Psycho" as being a sort of performative digest of late-eighties social problems, but it’s no more than that."

message 8: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Jun 01, 2009 12:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've read that interview several times. It's great. I didn't realize until recently that it was done in '91. I found this additionally impressive. I'd gotten the impression it was post-Infinite Jest, post-Big Time Fame, etc.

He gets to the heart of various matters in each paragraph, it seems.

Here's another good interview:

Bram MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I've read that interview several times. It's great. I didn't realize until recently that it was done in '91. I found this additionally impressive. I'd gotten the impression it was post-Infinite..."

Yeah--you can see the seeds of James Incandenza in his critique of "renegade avant-gardism" in that interview. I'm guessing work on IJ was already underway by 1991, but I haven't really looked into the writing timeline.

Weinz Interested to hear what you think of the ghost. Who is it really and what does it represent?

message 11: by Bram (last edited Jun 22, 2009 07:52AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram That's funny you bring that up--just last night I read through Gately's fever dream with the ghost. I found it to be really striking (not just because a ghost suddenly entered the story--well, maybe not suddenly) because it gave voice to James O. in a way that was almost completely absent so far. He talks of his hopes and dreams for Hal in a way that was touching and seemed almost out of character. I haven't progressed beyond Gately's dream yet, so I'm not sure how much Jim's ghost continues to figure in the plot, but I'm guessing he's the one who's been moving things all over ETA (i.e. The Darkness' bed, the random tennis stuff, kitchen stuff, etc.). But I'll have to get back to you after I'm done with thoughts on what he/it might signify or represent thematically.

message 12: by [deleted user] (new)

Very good stuff here, Bram.

message 13: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Jon--I'm still trying to piece together some of the ambiguities and loose ends in my mind...if that's even possible?

message 14: by [deleted user] (new)

Heh. Well good luck with that. I read it a while ago and am still piecing together ambiguities. come to think of it, it is not much different than my life outside of the covers of books -- piecing together ambiguities and loose ends. Which happens to be one of the things I love about the book. And books in general. In my mind, one of the things DFW set out to do was to try and communicate the desperation existent in modern culture as a result of the perceived ambiguities of life because of all of the goddamn free time we have to indulge in our understanding of our own Indentity. This kind of thing has a way to make Perspective ambiguous at best...and loose ends. Forget about it. Save that shit for therapy sessions.

Now please excuse me.
I am stalking a woolly mammoth -- wielding my club.

message 15: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Haha, your post just blew my mind. Great points. But seriously, I think I just got a headache.

message 16: by Chris (last edited Jun 24, 2009 06:05AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Chris Excellent review, Bram. I'm sure there are many people who thought the book was really good but, for many of the reasons you mentioned in your review, aren't completely in love with it.

I liked your observation about the sprawling epics and the expectation to love or hate them.

message 17: by Bram (last edited Jun 24, 2009 06:35AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks Chris! Yeah, I really appreciate that DFW went with a strong, unique style in this book, even if it's not perfectly suited to everyone.

Glad I'm not the only one who has that response to sprawling monsters. They're so pushy.

message 18: by KFed (new) - added it

KFed Infinite Jest on the B line. You're making me miss Boston.

message 19: by Bram (last edited Jun 24, 2009 07:29AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Haha, well if you work the Dinky into a review, I might get nostalgic too. You're a Tiger now. Accept it. Love it.

message 20: by [deleted user] (new)

Wispelwey, this review is so good it makes me wanna puke out all my internal organs makes me wonder why I even attempt to write reviews on this website anymore.

I've had this brick of a book in my possession for several years now, and every time I am nearly reeled into its gravitational pull (its mass is so great as to warrant one), I ask myself if I'm in the mood for a thousand+ page ultra-postmodernist, self-reflexive novel filled with esotericism, minutiae, and all manner of trickery. The answer is usually a resounding, "Nah." Then I usually run, elbows-and-ass, searching for a creaky, old-fashioned, plodding author -- say, an early-period Saul Bellow type... which is only to say that I wish I had read this book when I was in my twenties because my literary tastes seem to have become more... more... what's the word... 'bourgeois' (?) in my thirties. I want something tactile, emotionally affective, visceral -- something demanding to be picked up and read at the end of a soul-deadening workday. In other words, I'm somehow immune to the allure of a Gravity's Rainbow (thankfully, I've already been there, done that) or a Finnegans Wake or... probably an Infinite Jest. Your review has confirmed some of my leeriness about this thing -- which is odd to say for a four-star review --and yet a four-star review that maybe (just a little around the edges) makes me suspect that you gave in just an eensy-weensy bit to the feelings/reservations you described in your disclaimer. In other words, this feels like a mitigated four stars.

I do like David Foster Wallace though (or what I have read of him), and I am sure I will get to this some day... just like I'll get to Pynchon's Mason & Dixon and William Gaddis's The Recognitions... but I'll leave a target date for that in limbo for now.

Thanks for this outstanding, very thorough review.

message 21: by Bram (last edited Aug 04, 2009 11:43AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram As Nick would say, Praise from Caesar! --seriously, thanks a lot. I never would have gotten (I hate the American form of this verb by the way--gotten) sucked into this website if I hadn't stumbled upon your Moby Dick review. And as I don't really have reader friends outside of Goodreads, this site has been a godsend.

IJ is much more readable than Gravity's Rainbow I'd say, and it has at least one very compelling major character (and quite a few minor ones). The page-size/font combination is even more of a bummer than the book length though. I think I read somewhere that the pages have 5/3 the number of words as normal pages. I.e. this book is like 1800 pages long. The zany/silly stuff comes off like Pynchon light (and there's less of it) and DFW has the compassion to at least explain most of his foreign words and difficult concepts (e.g. he references GR's mention of Brockengespenst--which is when you can make these monster shadows on a hill/mountain at sunset/sunrise; except DFW actually explains it in a footnote). And yeah, to be honest, I think I'm scared to give books which have taken hours and hours of my life less than 4 stars. There, I said it. Indeed, I think my tastes--what really gets me off--are closer to what you discuss above (classics, modernists, good old character-centered drama). But I still am curious to see what all the fuss is over these postmodern writers, and they do get me thinking about some interesting philosophical or scientific ideas. But at the end of the day, give me Proust, Salinger, and the Rooskies for some fucking heart please.

I've been hearing/seeing all over the place recently that Mason & Dixon has characters that readers actually end up caring about. If that's true, it could be just the right Pynchon book for me.

Oh, and good use of 'bourgeois', I think that fits just right. Until I started Proust, I had a pretty skewed/nonexistent understanding of this word in real, social terms. But now that I'm taking snobbiness 101 (or is A la recherche a masters level course?), I'll never again have to admit to such ignorance.

Edit: I think I have a backslash (or is it forward?) addiction. Someone please help me.

message 22: by [deleted user] (last edited Aug 04, 2009 11:55AM) (new)

I know... Isn't 'bourgeois' just about one of the worst insults a Frenchman can direct at you? I think it's even worse than 'dirty pig fucker' in most situations. It ('bourgeois' -- not 'dirty pig fucker') has so many subtle and varying connotations, doesn't it? Conventional, vulgar in taste, parochial, overly concerned with money, conservative, social-climbing, dull, anti-intellectual, etc.

I share your backlash addiction, by the way. There's not a bubble that I don't crave to burst... I'm what is known in the vernacular as a spoil-sport and a curmudgeon.

message 23: by Bram (last edited Aug 04, 2009 11:58AM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Yeah, see I would think 'anti-intellectual' also, but aren't the bourgeois the intellectuals in Proust (or faux-intellectuals at least)? Like the Verdurins and their ilk. Aspiring intellectuals, let's say.

message 24: by [deleted user] (new)

Yeah, I think they're more intellectual-pretenders, aren't they? They're concerned with appearances (of being artistic or intellectual). Speaking of which, isn't Mme Verdurin hilariously bitchy and 'bourgeois' in Proust? She doesn't really and truly care about art so much as she cares about the social prestige her 'artistic' salon lends her.

Matthieu Verdurin is a total fake.

message 26: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Yes, that's precisely it. She's definitely hilarious--I love her fake laugh where she buries her face in M. Verdurin's shoulder (or in anything else in the vicinity that might work to mask her non-laughing). And what's her little friend's name (starts with an 'S') who they treat like shit? I feel like an asshole, but they are so over-the-top mean to him that I can't help but find it hysterical.

message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

One thing in Proust which I definitely think gives evidence of his own snobbish and conservative bent is that somehow (but how??) he made me 'root for' the Duc and Duchesse de Guermantes over slithery social climbers like the Verdurins -- when in reality the Guermantes are just privileged snobs, born into their wealth and status, without having 'earned' any of their prestige in their social circles. At least we can give the Verdurins an A for effort, if nothing else, but they're both attempting to prey off the same ridiculous (and fascinating) social system. In certain instances (e.g., the Dreyfus Affair), Proust took an unpopular or, at least, a kinda left-ish position, but mostly he was a terrible snob and social reactionary... who just happened to write about the psychology of his milieu (and, more pointedly, psychology itself) brilliantly.

message 28: by Bram (last edited Aug 04, 2009 12:56PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram That post is a perfect summary of the social angle of the book. And you're right about the 'rooting' thing--I kind of just let myself get carried away with Proust's prejudices while I'm reading. It's only later that I start thinking what the fuck?! But it's a true testament to Proust's ability as an artist that these issues (his snobbishness, elitism, conservatism) don't even remotely detract from my enjoyment of the book. If I find someone's views ideologically distasteful, then I usually wouldn't be able to listen to them go on about it for hours/thousands of pages. But it doesn't even faze me here. If I met him now, I'd kiss him on the mouth and serve as his personal ball-washer for life.

message 29: by Melissa (new)

Melissa Jackson I just read your review again and my gosh, Bram. It is simply fantastic. It also just moved "Infinite Jest" to the top of my list. Chirstmas list, that is.

message 30: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks, Melissa! Even though I read it in the spring/summer, I think this'd be the perfect book to curl up with in the cold months.

message 31: by Bram (new) - rated it 4 stars

Bram Thanks, Brian--and thanks also for the off to read your review!

message 32: by Drew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew your uneasiness/need to validate giving this book four stars makes perfect sense to me, even though i DO think it's a masterpiece. but i had the same feeling about 2666 and the recognitions; i felt like i had to either worship or vilify, but in the end i liked them, yet didn't think they were particularly amazing. good review, though, by the way.

message 33: by Matt (new) - rated it 5 stars

Matt Nothing for riding the Green Line for postmodern reflections on addiction, vapidity, hostile historicity and ennui...REPRESENT!

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