When this book arrived, along with my last book order from Amazon a few months ago, there was some serious eye rolling. It is a doorstopper. I had a feeling I might hate it for the sheer size. I’d never read any Wallace before and was only vaguely aware that he was considered a bit of a genius/ prophet of a generation and so on. It was on The Guardian’s 1,000 novels everyone should read list, which I’ve been dipping in and out of for the past 5 years but while that’s a good and useful sign that a book is noteworthy, it didn’t mean I’d necessarily like it.
I started reading Infinite Jest three months ago. I could not get into it. I hated the book’s layout and page alignment, sentences that went on and on for half a page or more, end notes, pharmacological lexicon, the whole thing just oozed pretension. I didn’t particularly care about any of the characters. Due to the book’s size, I didn’t really want to lug it with me either. Yet I continued reading it for two reasons, firstly, I refused to be defeated by it. Infinite Jest required concentration, total focus in a way that most other books don’t. So I decided to read it slowly, in the mornings only (my concentration is better in the mornings). Secondly, I wasn’t supposed to have bought new fiction books in the first place (any books really) because I have accumulated so many already in the ‘pile of shame’. So I had to keep on reading Infinite Jest as a punishment of sorts for being an obsessive book hoarder. I read about 150 or so pages by around Easter time (I think) and then I had to take a break because of study (which I do in the mornings before work for a big part of a year) and I only picked Infinite Jest up again once I’d sufficiently recovered from writing a final assignment for the course I was doing. It still took ages to get into but there was a moment when I realised I’d actually started enjoying it – the game of Eschaton, around page 330 or so. It has never taken me this long to get into a book. Later that week, I started thinking this stupid book might just be a work of genius. I laughed at episodes, I started caring about some of the characters and meanwhile, the justified alignment, the notes and the very long sentences stopped bothering me. I finished it over the weekend and went straight back to beginning. Not that I am going to read it allover again but I may dip in to remind myself of certain characters introductions as I’ve read quite a few other books between the beginning and the ending of this one. It struck me just now that the way I almost had to train myself to read this book, pretty much take it one day at a time, was fairly analogous to the way characters in the book, particularly Don Gately dealt with addiction, ‘abide’ being the word and there’s no reward as such at the end – which also applies to how I felt when I finished the book. I am not sure that I quite loved Infinite Jest, it’s very clever and funny and sad and it gets more human as you go on. At the same time, some of it also felt a bit empty and self-absorbed and I can’t help thinking I should have read it when I was at a more impressionable age. Still, I’m glad I have read it, it is pretty epic as the Guardian’s jacket quote says and it is very good and very clever. I’d like to read Wallace’s non fiction at some point. Having been able to finish this gives me hope too – for the granddaddy of ‘pile of shame’, Don DeLillo’s Underworld, which I was very excited about many moons ago (when it came out in paperback in the UK), got through about 40 pages, put it down and never picked up again. Think it may be time.