Wittgenstein's Mistress by David Markson (Shane's book 20, 2011)

This is the fifth and final book of my short run of experimental and post-modern fiction. This one is perhaps the most radical of the five but, though it's an interesting experiment, it's not really one that engages. [amtap book:isbn=1564782115]

The book is a stream-of-consciousness narration by a woman who is, or believes she is, the last living person in the world. She doesn't explain how this situation arose but she does detail her travels across the world in search of another survivor.

If that makes it sound like there is a plot, don't get your hopes up. The narrative is best described as a series of small loops. The narrator keeps returning to the same themes and events over and over again, sometimes adding more detail, sometimes contradicting previous accounts. Nothing really moves forwards.

That's sort of the point. This is a book about philosophy as much as it's about anything. Specifically it's about solipsism: is the narrator really the only woman left in the world or is she insane? If she is alone in the world then who is she writing this for?

There are plenty of philosophy jokes and nods to those who are familiar with the work of Wittgenstein in particular. It's been almost 20 years since I read any Wittgenstein so I imagine I missed quite a few of the references. It's easy to appreciate the intellectual workout being displayed here though.

Still, my reaction is more one of polite appreciation than anything approaching passion. The narrator's habit of contradicting herself feels forced, as if Markson is checking to see if we've been paying attention. And the repetition feels tiresome.

There is so little progression in this book that it feels as though you could shuffle the chapters without any meaningful effect on the novel. What would have been intriguing as a short story feels strained at this length.