The Pale King, by David Foster Wallace
Boyd Tonkin is Literary Editor at The Independent. An award-winning journalist, he was formerly Social Policy Editor of the New Statesman and has broadcast extensively for BBC arts and current affairs programmes. He has judged the Booker Prize, the Whitbread biography award, the Commonwealth Writers Prize and the David Cohen Prize for a lifetime's achievement in literature.
Saturday 14 July 2012
Although it lacked a final polish before the author's suicide, The Pale King is still a hilariously melancholy masterpiece, and more welcoming to new fans than his vast Infinite Jest.
Set in the tax office in the joke location of Peoria, Illinois in 1985 (think Slough), the novel braids the sad-comic lives and dreams of becalmed revenue inspectors into the Ulysses of boredom and routine. "Such a bureaucracy" is "a parallel world" with "its own physics". DFW married soaring stylistic virtuosity with deep compassion for thwarted lives.
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