You are here:   Civilisation >  Books > Good But Not Great

Highway to Heaven? David Foster Wallace 

Virginia Woolf's reputation has always baffled me. I have tried her books repeatedly over the years and I have (and this is no literary hyperbole) never been able to get through more than three pages before my eyes have glided off her sentences towards something more congenial, like wallpaper. I appreciate I stand almost alone against a considerable weight of readers and academic adulation, but I can't shake off the suspicion that Woolf's prominence has been chiefly propelled by her suicide.

The vision of the tortured or doomed artist is an appealing one, and there's nothing like suicide to make you seem, well, really tortured, really serious, too sensitively artistic for this cruel world, instead of someone who is simply just very depressed or unemployable.

The life truly determines the afterlife. I can't help wondering whether Rimbaud's reputation would be quite so high if he had died in his sleep, fat and 80, after having run a butcher's uneventfully in Lyon for 50 years, instead of dying messily at 37 as a gun-running slaver and former stoner.

The American writer David Foster Wallace's stock was high before his death, but there's no question that his suicide gave his sales and profile added buoyancy.  Wallace is (was?) a good writer, his journalism in particular is entertaining, but it's not as if his prose towers majestically above all his contemporaries.

Infinite Jest, which is regarded by many as his magnum opus (and it certainly is magnum), was a well-written book, but not so exquisite and fascinatingly well-written that I didn't stop around page 160 because I felt I was just getting more of the same. For many (or at least many in the literary business) David Foster Wallace had donned the mantle of The Great American Novelist, although I could name, without any undue effort, a dozen American novelists who novel as well as Wallace.

View Full Article
May 14th, 2011
4:05 PM
I've suffered from depression and I'm completely unoffended. As for Wallace, I've got nothing against him; he's a fine (if somewhat showy)writer who has some good insights. But I don't think he deserves the pedestal being made for him.

May 13th, 2011
2:05 AM
As soon as I saw that the reviewer didn't like Virginia Woolf, I knew he'd be incapable of understanding Wallace. He needs a new profession if he can't appreciate these two writers. The part about the suicide is completely offensive to people who have suffered from depression.

Post your comment

This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions.