book cover of Wilson


A Consideration of the Sources
A novel by

For admirers of Mamet's powerful, astringent drama his third novel Wilson will come as something of a perplexing surprise, although in many ways it is a continuation of his obsessions by other means. In the wake of the crash of the Internet in the 21st century, the world's knowledge of the past, its collective memory, is lost, able to be salvaged only from the downloaded memories of Ginger, wife of ex-President Wilson. Mamet's novel takes the form of fragments and brief texts, over-scrupulously annotated by obsessive scholars: a riotous blend of puns, pastiche, mock-academic footnotes (themselves often annotated) and post-modern formal playfulness. The footnote has been exploited before, of course: Flann O'Brien, David Foster Wallace, Nicholson Baker and Armand Schwerner have all used them to fine effect. Here the result is more ambiguous, the notes may be individually hilarious, but soon become torrentially overwhelming, a mise-en-abîme of claim and counter-claim, assertion and refutation. If Mamet has a Luddite suspicion of the Internet this is replicated in the hypertextual overload of the book's structure. Through the fug of obsessive debate, Mamet ponders our attachment to the past, our need for truth and accurate perception. In such a world, humour becomes a means of survival, for the reader as well as the writer.

Mamet revisits the anxieties of Modernists such as TS Eliot who were troubled by the fragmentation of early 20th-century culture: one footnote explicitly echoes a line from Eliot's "Choruses from 'The Rock'" ("Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?" becomes "Was it knowledge, though, or was it merely 'information'?").

Mamet however is wary of such nostalgia for a fully retrievable past: the obsession with information and the academic pursuit of incontrovertible accuracy pits the need for certainty against the evanescence and contradictions of individual memory. The act of reading, as in Thomas Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, becomes yet another manifestation of the desire to impose order, coherence, linearity and narrative on the freewheeling chaos of everyday life. The end result? A book that is often very funny over the stretch of a few pages: to try and make sense of the whole would be to replicate the mistakes of those who want all the answers. --Burhan Tufail

Genre: Science Fiction

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