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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction


Joshua Cohen

[an overview of the reviews and critical reactions]

general information | review summaries | review and reception notes | links | about the author

To purchase Witz

Title: Witz
Author: Joshua Cohen
Genre: Novel
Written: 2010
Length: 824 pages
Availability: Witz - US
Witz - UK
Witz - Canada

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Why we haven't reviewed it yet:

It's a lot to tackle; it may take a while

Chances that we will review it:

Very good

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Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The Believer . 6/2010 Blake Butler
Forward . 10/5/2010 Dan Friedman
Haaretz . 3/9/2010 Gerald Sorin
New Statesman . 14/6/2010 Michael Sayeau
The NY Times Book Rev. . 13/6/2010 Stephen Burn
The New Yorker . 10/5/2010 .
TLS . 13/8/2010 Natasha Lehrer

  Review Consensus:

  Impressive (if perhaps rather overwhelming), and language/sentence-focused

  From the Reviews:
  • "Itís a shame that no one will read this book. Or, rather, itís an indictment of contemporary reading practices that the scope and flavor of Joshua Cohenís epic novel Witz will escape all but the most passionate or academically driven readers. (...) Cohenís style prolongs with excess. His loquacity is, in a kind reading, a satire of the constant production of stuff, necessary and unnecessary, that is the hallmark of contemporary global society. His words stand for goods that are produced and overproduced. But it is, in the end, simply too much. Cohen canít resist a wordplay: a pun, a transformation, an exploration of euphony. In contradistinction to his experimental style, however, Cohenís narrative position is somewhat traditional and static (.....) The lack of narrative development can be particularly daunting for the reader but makes for a particular immensity of achievement." - Dan Friedman, Forward

  • "The plot in Witz is discernible, but it is excruciatingly hard to dig out, and it could easily have been told in far fewer than 800 pages - and with more wallop than Cohen delivers in this meandering, gratuitously vile and ultimately oppressive novel. Don't get me wrong. I think Cohen is a genius and remarkably erudite. (...) Joshua Cohen is brave, he is clearly not seeking a large audience and he writes with a mission to sow disquiet. This is admirable, and it works, up to a point. But in the end we have a pyrotechnically intellectual version of the myths (about religion, politics, identity, power and commerce ) that Cohen says he is trying to debunk, and a bulging bag of the baloney he says he wants to bury." - Gerald Sorin, Haaretz

  • "Joshua Cohen's Witz is a work that is difficult to evaluate, and this is part of its complex virtue. It is hard to know what to make of a novel that simultaneously attempts to place itself in the tradition of the Great American Novel, allows itself prolixity and lyricism in an age of sparse prose and, above all else, demands of its reader more hours of hard concentration than the world generally permits nowadays. (...) Just as much as the plot, it is Cohen's prose style that defines this novel. It is a difficult work to read, apparently never content simply to let something happen when it could be riffed about for paragraphs or even pages on end." - Michael Sayeau, New Statesman

  • "(A) deliberate act of excess thatís also an exercise in omission -- the product of a negative aesthetic that emphasizes what isnít there. (...) This anarchic energy recalls Thomas Pynchon and David Foster Wallace, but what really distinguishes Witz is its language and Cohenís vigorous assault on the sentence as a unit of simple communication. Like a sermon described in the novel, the language in Witz is "scripted to sound," designed to capture the verbal distortions of East Coast speech. (...) Some will be exhausted by the tentacular punning paragraphs, but Witz is a brave and artful attempt to explore and explode the limits of the sentence." - Stephen Burn, The New York Times Book Review

  • "(T)he novel overflows with puns, allusions, and Borscht Belt zingers, in an incantatory modernist style. But the story, which, for all its intellectual energy, values cleverness above clarity, is a bleak one, in which the flesh is cursed, life is absurd, and the end is near." - The New Yorker

  • "But to describe the bones of the story is to bypass the experience of reading it. Cohen's prose drips with lugubrious excess; Witz is, on this level, a long-winded reminder of the serious import of the literary novel, the novel as linguistic artefact as opposed to naturalistic explainer of the world, as most contemporary offerings are." - Natasha Lehrer, Times Literary Supplement

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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Notes about the Reviews
and the Book's Reception

       Witz looks to be the 'big' serious book of the summer of 2010, reminiscent of the massive, wordplay-filled novels of Gass, Pynchon, David Foster Wallace and the like, and it's quickly gotten a lot of traction, with solid early review coverage -- which leads one to suspect that there will be much more to come.

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Witz: Reviews: Joshua Cohen: Other books by Joshua Cohen under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       American author Joshua Cohen was born in 1980.

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© 2010-2022 the complete review

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