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Wittgenstein's Mistress Paperback – March 1, 2006
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From Publishers Weekly
In this "unsettling, shimmering novel," a woman who has gone mad because she is the last surviving creature on earth writes what PW called a "rambling compelling monologue" of her thoughts and remembrances. "By the end of this seamless stream of consciousness, there is no distinction between fantasy and reality, past and present."
Copyright 1989 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
"A work of genius . . . an erudite, breathtakingly cerebral novel whose prose is crystal and whose voice rivets and whose conclusion defies you not to cry." --David Foster Wallace
"Addresses formidable philosophic questions with tremendous wit . . . remarkable . . . a novel that can be parsed like a sentence; it is that well made." --New York Times Book Review
"I can't think of the last time I held my breath when I read a book, waiting for the author to make one slip. Markson is as precise and dazzling as Joyce. His wit and awesome power of observation make this fictional world utterly convincing. I couldn't put this book down. I can't forget it. While Markson himself would deplore the use of a cliche, all I can say is that this book is original, beautiful, and an absolute masterpiece. Anyone who reads it can't think about the world the same way." --Ann Beattie
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She is sufficiently self aware to know that she is insane. She refers to a number of events in her past that point to the cause of her mental decline -- the death of her only child at age seven from meningitis, the breakdown of her marriage, the deaths of both parents and the guilt and loneliness ensuing from all of the above. Gradually, the reader becomes aware that there is no other living being in the protagonist's existence.
Gradually, the reader starts to suspect -- without ever quite knowing for certain -- that the world has somehow come to an end and that the protagonist is the sole survivor.
The stream of consciousness narration is the most fascinating and challenging aspect of this novel. The protagonist's thoughts are out of focus, obsessively repetitive, factually inconsistent (she refers to her only child first as Adam, then as Simon and, finally, as Lucien) and without logical sequence -- all of which are indicative of her mental state. This makes the novel all the more intriguing. However, it also makes for difficult reading. Unless you're planning on reading this book in a single sitting, be sure to have a bookmark handy. Finding one's place in this book can be a challenge.
Nonetheless, the protagonist always remains sympathetic. There is a purity and sweetness of soul that shines through the ramblings. Toward the book's end, she has what appears to be a moment of lucidity where she comes close to acknowledging the pain of her situation -- whatever that situation may be. The passage is absolutely heart-breaking.
This novel is filled with hundreds of references and anecdotes relating to music, art history, poetry, drama, mythology and the classics. These references cry out to be looked into further. In this respect, this novel reminds me of the works of Markson's friend and mentor, Malcolm Lowry. I suspect that there may be hidden gems in this book that won't become clear until the references are checked out and the book re-read.