This is a book about the our day to day life, which can be, largely, boring. Knowing this changes the experience of reading a complex book, by a complex artist. "Almost anything you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting…"

David Foster Wallace ('DFW') committed suicide and left the pages of his unfinished manuscript in neat orderly piles which convinced his wife and editor he wanted what he had written to be published. What all this writing amounts to can probably be better described as ideas for a novel rather than a novel itself. The only other novel I've read where the author died before completing it is Scott Fitzgerald's The Last Tycoon. DFW obviously couldn't see his projected book through its completion, and likely contributed to his suicide, exasperated by a life of depression. There isn't really the sense this would have been a better novel had it been finished because somehow there's the prevailing sticky notion that it never would be finished. My sense was of a novel, brilliantly inspired that was encountering major difficulties - which makes the book about the banalities of life brilliant. (I suspect the same was true of Virginia Woolf's relationship with Between the Acts, another novel whose central idea never generated the sustained inspiration necessary to convincingly dramatise it.)

I never quite felt I was on a clear path to a finished work of art. It was like he had the big cohering central idea but was frequently stumbling up blind alleys. I think this becomes most apparent when he introduces himself as a character - this foray into metafiction just felt clumsy and misguided as if he had lost his way. In other words, this book is either a long way from being finished or, if most of what we have was intended to make it to the published version, is erratically hit and miss in its inspiration. I think often you only need to read the first twenty pages or so of any novel to have a grasp of the quality of artistic inspiration it was written in. In fact, it took less pages to know Virginia Woolf's The Years or Between the Acts weren't going to get anywhere near the inspired brilliance of The Waves. The Pale King is an oddity in this regard. Because its artistic atmosphere fluctuates so much. Just when you think it would have been a dud it's brilliant and just when you think it's brilliant it meanders off into alleyways and dreary conversations. Brilliance.

The Pale King is a novel that examines the activity of the mind and especially the role boredom plays in our life. DFW does not tell boredom; he shows it. Sometimes this takes the form of word for word transcripts of tax procedures or extensive lectures. In other words, at times, he's deliberately setting out to bore the reader - a novelty in the history of literature. But he has a lot to say of interest about boredom. In many ways he shows concentration and its flipside boredom are like love and hate. Heightened concentration, like love, can be responsible for revelation, transfiguration, epiphany. Boredom, often what ensues when we can't concentrate, the quicksand into vacancy where depression can take hold. As you'd expect DFW is brilliant and enlightening at writing about depression. Some of the best passages in the book deal with phobias and OCD behaviour. What we get are a lot of backstories of troubled individuals who will end up working as IRS tax auditors in a soulless building in the Midwest of America. Unfortunately, we never get to see how these characters will pan out. We never quite get to the plot. Which makes you feel this novel might have been twice its present size had it been finished.

It compares to writers and books like this: Morrison with Beloved, Bellow with Herzog, DeLillo with Underworld.