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Publisher's Summary

Downloadable audio edition of David Foster Wallace's final and most ambitious undertaking – an audacious and hilarious look into the abyss of ordinary life. The agents at the IRS Regional Examination Centre in Peoria, IL, appear ordinary enough to newly arrived trainee David Wallace. But as he immerses himself in a routine so tedious and repetitive that new employees receive boredom-survival training, he learns of the extraordinary variety of personalities drawn to this strange calling. And he has arrived at a moment when forces within the IRS are plotting to eliminate even what little humanity and dignity the work still has.

The Pale King remained unfinished at the time of David Foster Wallace’s death, but it is a deeply intriguing and satisfying novel, hilarious and fearless and as original as anything Wallace ever undertook. It grapples directly with ultimate questions – questions of life’s meaning and of the ultimate value of work and family – through characters imagined with the interior force and generosity that were Wallace’s unique gifts. Along the way it suggests a new idea of heroism and commands infinite respect for a writer who dared to take on the most daunting subjects the human spirit can imagine.

©2011 David Foster-Wallace (P)2011 Penguin Books Ltd

Critic Reviews

"We can imagine his fiction and essays as the scroll fragments of a distant future. He did not channel his talents to narrower patterns. He wanted to be equal to the vast, babbling, spin-out sweep of contemporary culture." (Don DeLillo)

What members say

Average Customer Ratings

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  • Story

Masterpiece

A work unlike any other. Rich figurative language and accounts of human thought and behavior. Petkoff makes it fresh and alive. Listener must succumb to Wallace's heavy world, but it ends up bringing you to a whole new realm of literature and intimacy. Cannot recommend it enough.

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  • Overall
  • Colin
  • 06-07-11

Pale, but interesting

Despite the fact this book is chiefly about boredom (and we are given some very in-depth accounts of the kind of tedium its characters experience), it somehow manages to be one of the funniest books I've read or listened to for quite a while. Much of this comes from the way the author has injected humour in the most unexpected places, and from his wholly original approach to characters and situations. In this it is reminiscent of "Catch 22", although the two are very different books in most respects.

Robert Petkoff makes a marvellous job of reading the text, managing to handle multiple voices in very impressive fashion. If you enjoy the book as much as I did, you may also want to get hold of a copy of the print edition which includes numerous footnotes which it would have been impossible to include in the audiobook version. These add some interesting insights, as do a selection of notes that give an indication of David Foster Wallace's intentions for the final shape of the book.

Famously incomplete at the author's death, what we have here feels like only about 80-90% of the intended work, but, largely due I am sure to the excellent job the editor has done in assembling drafts, fragments etc, and above all to DFW's supreme gift of being able to delineate the human condition extraordinarily precisely, what we are presented with in this form is very close to being a hugely successful whole.

If it gets boring, stick with it - it'll get hilarious soon enough.

4 of 4 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Sophia
  • 08-10-12

Petkoff does this remarkable book justice!

A remarkable book that it’s difficult to grade. But five stars because the best of the writing is so good. The characterisation and dialogue are nothing short of brilliant! Equally the flashes of baroque humour, "Almost anything that you pay close, direct attention to becomes interesting." (Pure Wallace, at his best).

Some of the sections are tedious and – dare I say it repetitive – but overall this is a book that I will want to read again, because I find myself quite haunted by the vivid and the philosophical conundrums the author explores.

"Enduring tedium over real time in a confined space is what real courage is… The truth is that the heroism of your childhood entertainments was not true valour. It was theatre. The grand gesture, the moment of choice, the mortal danger, the external foe, the climactic battle whose outcome resolves all – all designed to appear heroic, to excite and gratify an audience… Gentlemen, welcome to the world of reality – there is no audience. No one to applaud, to admire… actual heroism receives no ovation, entertains no one. No one queues up to see it. No one is interested."

Bravo to Michael Pietsch who compiled this version of an incomplete novel. An unenviable task, to say the least.

1 of 1 people found this review helpful

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  • Mr.L.Barkaway
  • 06-02-17

listening to this masterpiece made me smile

Having the luxury of listening rather than reading, for me personally made this even more enjoyable. a truly amazing look at life. writing and how we approach the world. Much is almost meaningless and yet it is all magnificient and magical. my words can't do it justice. recommend

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  • Alice
  • 09-09-15

Fantastic.

Where does The Pale King rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

Since this is such a long listen, it can be difficult to dip in and out of. However, it is a fantastic book, and full of some incredible moments. The format of the novel works incredibly well as an audio adaptation.

What does Robert Petkoff bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

Due to the nature of the story, a personable voice brings a different level of engagement to it.

Any additional comments?

Whilst it is a long listen, and it can be difficult to find your place if you lose it, The Pale King is a stunning read, which I have very much enjoyed.

  • Overall
  • sarahmoose2000
  • 09-19-12

Talking to Gramps

Poor old gramps! But this audiobook was like a prolonged conversation with him - it stopped and started and then went back to things once you'd thought you'd covered them.



I really didn't understand this book at all, there was no flow to it whatsoever. I can only deduce from the foreword that the editor putting it together after the author's death, got his chapters mixed up. Shame.

1 of 6 people found this review helpful

  • Overall
  • Patrick
  • 04-24-11

Boring, I'm afraid

I taught Beckett's Waiting for Godot and En Attendant Godot for years, solemnly telling my pupils that 'it dealt with the theme of boredom, but it wasn't boring', then I saw it on stage.....it was dreadful.
Similarly, The Pale King is proclaimed in the same terms and David Foster-Wallace heralded as a lost genius; 'fraid not, in this reviewer's humble opinion, the Emperor has no clothes. It deals with boredom and IS mind-numbingly boring as a result.

2 of 10 people found this review helpful