Synopses & Reviews
The writer Hari Kunzru says “made me feel better about the Apocalypse than I have in ages” is back — with a hilarious coming-of-age love story.
The unruly undergraduates at Cambridge have a nickname for their new lecturer: Wittgenstein Jr. He’s a melancholic, tormented genius who seems determined to make them grasp the very essence of philosophical thought.
But Peters — a working-class student surprised to find himself among the elite — soon discovers that there’s no place for logic in a Cambridge overrun by posh boys and picnicking tourists, as England’s greatest university is collapsing under market pressures.
Such a place calls for a derangement of the senses, best achieved by lethal homemade cocktails consumed on Cambridge rooftops, where Peters joins his fellows as they attempt to forget about the void awaiting them after graduation, challenge one another to think so hard they die, and dream about impressing Wittgenstein Jr with one single, noble thought.
And as they scramble to discover what, indeed, they have to gain from the experience, they realize that their teacher is struggling to survive. For Peters, it leads to a surprising turn — and for all of them, a challenge to see how the life of the mind can play out in harsh but hopeful reality.
Combining his trademark wit and sharp brilliance, Wittgenstein Jr is Lars Iyer’s most assured and ambitious novel yet — as impressive, inventive and entertaining as it is extraordinarily stirring.
"Fresh from his acclaimed Spurious Trilogy (Spurious, Dogma, and Exodus), Iyer mines the history of Western philosophy in this unlikely fusion of a campus novel with high slapstick. Set at Cambridge, the story concerns a contemporary philosophy professor whose life and manners mirror the famous logician Ludwig Wittgenstein. A figure of fascination for a tight-knit circle of baffled undergrads who christen him 'Wittgenstein,' he is a larger-than-life malcontent whose hatred for Cambridge, bizarre lessons, and typically gnomic pronouncements ('I have no intention of making myself understood') set the tone for the usual series of higher-ed initiations. Preppy Ede teeters between love and despair, druggy Scroggins imbibes a catastrophic amount of ketamine, pretentious Titmuss is transfigured in India during his gap year, and outsider Peters deals both with his budding sexuality and the increasing commercialism on campus. But above it all presides their teacher, whose private pain and peculiar genius is the stuff of both light parody and heartbreaking tragedy. Through his class and his example the novel's novice schoolboys learn more than rhetoric; they come face to face with the reality they long for. Like an upbeat, comic version of a Thomas Bernhard novel, the book occasionally exhausts its central joke but scores points for its outstanding strangeness, its rapid dialogue, and, of course, its grotesque, man-out-of-time hero-philosopher. Iyer already has a reputation for combining brainy dialogue with madcap action, but the triumph of his latest (and best) novel is that the cartoon turns out to have real substance. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Wittgenstein Jr really is very good entertainment — enjoyable reading, with just the right touch of gravity, good fun, but with a sense of the almost-profound in the shadows." Complete Review
"A droll love story....Existential angst is rarely this entertaining." Kirkus Reviews
"With their ingenious blend of philosophical dialogue and vaudevillian verve, Iyer’s trilogy, Spurious, Dogma and Exodus, earned a cult following. Wittgenstein, Jr. compacts Iyer’s concerns into a single campus novel, set at early 21st-century Cambridge. It should serve as an ideal introduction to his work." The Millions, Most Anticipated Books for the second half of 2014
“[Iyer] is a deeply elegiac satirist....He manages to both send up intellectual life and movingly lament its erosion." New York Times
“Fascinating....A doomy, hilarious, thoughtful Cambridge comedy with a tone somewhere between Philosophical Investigations and Porterhouse Blue, as a bunch of dreadful modern undergrads struggle to make sense of a tragic, saintlike tutor who is not Wittgenstein, or not exactly." Sunday Telegraph (UK), Best Books of 2014
“It isn’t really a novel, or not only a novel. It’s more interesting than that… Iyer has compiled an idiosyncratic — and surprisingly tender — paean to love and learning." Times Literary Supplement
About the Author
Lars Iyer is the author of two books on Blanchot (Blanchot’s Communism: Art, Philosophy, Politics and Blanchot’s Vigilance: Phenomenology, Literature, Ethics) and the novels Spurious (which was 3:AM Magazine’s Book of the Year in 2011), Dogma, and Exodus. His literary manifesto, “Nude in Your Hot Tub, Facing the Abyss,” appeared in Post Road and The White Review.