I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized A Ghost is Born

A Ghost is Born

Tim Groenland
Every Love Story Is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace, by DT Max, Granta, 368 pp, £20, ISBN 978-1847084941 Both Flesh and Not: Essays, by David Foster Wallace, Hamish Hamilton, 336 pp, £20, ISBN 978-0241144824 The blurb on the jacket of DT Max’s new biography Every Love Story is a Ghost Story: A Life of David Foster Wallace informs us rather dramatically that “David Foster Wallace is to contemporary literature what Kurt Cobain is to music or James Dean to cinema”. It becomes necessary, then, before we even reach the main text, to negotiate the aura of celebrity and myth surrounding the troubled author, who was forty-six when he committed suicide in September 2008. The tricky thing about this apparent piece of publishing fluff is that it might just be true. Wallace was one of the defining figures in recent American literature, and his literary shadow seems to grow with every passing year. He has become an inspiration for younger writers as well as a focal point for a new generation of academics, and the image of the author as bandana-wearing, pot-smoking, tennis-playing, tobacco-chewing novelist-philosopher continues to penetrate deeper into the cultural consciousness. His legacy fascinates fellow novelists as well as readers and critics: Bret Easton Ellis, for example (who is to social media what a duck is to water), caused a minor fuss with his recent Twitter outburst about “Saint David Foster Wallace”, describing his contemporary as “the most tedious, overrated, tortured, pretentious writer of my generation”. Jeffrey Eugenides’s latest novel, The Marriage Plot, meanwhile, contains a polymathic, clinically depressed and self-destructive protagonist who (despite its author’s repeated denials) looks an awful lot like a fictionalised version of Wallace. Since Wallace’s death, his work has been definitively conferred with the voice-of-a-generation importance he both craved and feared. In “Farther Away”, an essay published in May 2011, Jonathan Franzen, Wallace’s literary ally and rival, meditated – in his own stubborn, reluctant way – on his friend’s death and subsequent transmutation into legend. Franzen’s essay expressed alarm and resentment at the hasty Cobainification of his friend’s memory and the posthumous elevation of a troubled and complicated man to the status of omniscient, cuddly guru. It decried the “adulatory public narratives of David, which take his suicide as proof that (as Don McLean sang of van Gogh) ‘this world was never meant for one as beautiful as you’”, and stated provocatively (and…

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