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David Markson: Wittgenstein’s Mistress

Markson claims that he was turned down by fifty-four publishers before the Dalkey Archive Press published this book. He also claims this is a record but I sincerely doubt it. I can, however, understand the publishers’ plight. Many people, apparently, said that the book was brilliant and ahead of its time but could not publish it as it would not get past the sales people. Nor would it. It is ostensibly a memoir of the last person left alive on Earth. The blurb implies that she is not the last person left alive but merely thinks so. There is nothing in the book to suggest either possibility. She does not, however, talk about how and why the Earth ended, if indeed it has, but dredges up her memories.

The style of the book is short, one- or two-sentence paragraphs of the survivor reeling out her memories. Many of the memories are literary and/or artistic ones. However, the memories may not be memories because she frequently suggests that she may not actually have the right memory. For example, has she read The Recognitions and/or met William Gaddis? Maybe. She talks about both as though she is familiar with them and then denies having read the book or met the man. Memories, whether you are the last person left on Earth or not, are fluid, unsure, changing. Clearly, she is trying to do what we all do as humans, to put some sort of order into her life, in this case more her cultural life than the rest of life and, like most of us, she stumbles badly, making connections that, at least to us, seem odd and, in many cases, she is unsure of where the connections are. For, if we cannot make the connections, then we are truly the last person on Earth.

Publishing history

First published 1988 by Dalkey Archive Press