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Reviews Round-up

The critics' verdicts on David Foster Wallace and David Bezmozgis.

The Pale King by David Foster Wallace

"Perversely thrilling", the Guardian's James Lasdun remarks of David Foster Wallace's unfinished posthumous novel. Perhaps an unlikely description for a story which consists of "one extended first act" set in a tax processing office in the desolate outskirts of 1980s Illinois. At the heart of the novel, observes Lasdun, sits "boredom and its various effects on the spirit, ranging from suicidal despair... to a transcendent power of concentration."

It's a novel that doesn't "go in for understatement" he writes "or charm for that matter" but one which is peppered with "rather wickedly dulled down prose".

Hari Kunzru writes in the FT that Wallace takes precise language "to comic extremes". "[It] is one of the great pleasures of his writing".
"He discourses on the niceties of the US tax code, on the exact hardware configuration of the computer systems that implement it. 'Suffice it to say that I know more about the chemistry, manufacture and ambient odors of instant coffee than anyone would voluntarily want to' remarks faux-authorial Wallace, in a footnoted digression about a billboard near the entrance to the IRS facility where most of The Pale King takes place."

The New Statesman's Jonathan Derbyshire applauds Wallace's attention to morose detail. "Few novelists have taken as seriously as Wallace the obligation to write truthfully about the way we live today. And as Pietsch says, even in an unfinished novel such as this, the products of that seriousness are spectacular."

The Pale King is reviewed in this week's New Statesman

The Free World by David Bezmozgis

"David Bezmozgis projects a sense of ease that is very rare in first novels," The Telegraph's Leo Robson remarks of the Lativan author who was last year lauded in The New Yorker as one of the world's most promising young writers. "He does everything well," writes Robson, "Though economy in characterisation is his strongest gift."

Colin Greenland for the Guardian does not quite agree. He argues The Free World, a novel of emigration from the USSR in the mid-70s, is a story "without much of a plot". Yet to Greenland this does not detract from the novel's potency, which is "heavy with the consciousness of time, the inevitability of crises . . . Bezmozgis has the knack of ending scenes, chapters, especially, at the perfect reverberant moment, plangent or ironic."

Melissa McClements for the FT calls The Free World "a multi-generational family saga". The result of which she believes is "colourful, sharply funny and deeply moving".