Helen DeWitt

Helen DeWitt was born in a suburb of Washington, DC. Daughter of American diplomats, she grew up mainly in Latin America, living in Mexico, Brazil, Colombia, and Ecuador. She went to Oxford to study classics for a BA and D.Phil. She left academia to try to write a novel, moving eventually to London and acquiring UK citizenship. She had some 100 fragments of novels when she began work in 1995 on the novel that was published as The Last Samurai in 2000. The book caused a sensation at the Frankfurt Bookfair 1999, going on to be translated in 20 languages (DeWitt reads some 15 languages to various degrees of fluency). On the reissue of The Last Samurai by New Directions in 2016 it was hailed by Vulture Magazine as The Best Book of the Century. She is also the author of Lightning Rods, a Mel Brooksian satire on sexual harassment, and Some Trick, a collection of stories. She has been based in Berlin since 2004, but also spends time at a cottage in the woods of Vermont improving her chainsaw skills.

The English Understand Wool

Fiction by Helen DeWitt

Maman was exigeante—there is no English word—and I had the benefit of her training. Others may not be so fortunate. If some other young girl, with two million dollars at stake, finds this of use I shall count myself justified. Raised in Marrakech by a French mother and English father, a 17-year-old girl has learned above all to avoid mauvais ton (“bad taste” loses something in the translation). One should not ask servants to wait on one during Ramadan: they must have paid leave while one spends the holy month abroad.…
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Some Trick

Fiction by Helen DeWitt

For sheer unpredictable brilliance, Gogol may come to mind, but no author alive today takes a reader as far as Helen DeWitt into the funniest, most far-reaching dimensions of possibility. Her jumping-off points might be statistics, romance, the art world’s piranha tank, games of chance and of skill, the travails of publishing, or success. “Look,” a character begins to explain, laying out some gambit reasonably enough, though in the face of situations spinning out to their utmost logical extremes, where things prove “more complicated than they had first appeared” and “at 3 a.…
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The Last Samurai

Fiction by Helen DeWitt

Helen DeWitt’s 2000 debut, The Last Samurai, was “destined to become a cult classic” (Miramax). The enterprising publisher sold the rights in twenty countries, so “Why not just, ‘destined to become a classic?’” (Garth Risk Hallberg) And why must cultists tell the uninitiated it has nothing to do with Tom Cruise? Sibylla, an American-at-Oxford turned loose on London, finds herself trapped as a single mother after a misguided one-night stand. High-minded principles of child-rearing work disastrously well.…
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Lightning Rods

Helen DeWitt’s follow-up to her critically accalimed debut novel The Last Samurai arrives with a bang, ready to take on the complex issues surrounding sexual tension in the workplace with a wicked dose of satire and humor. Joe is a down-and-out salesman who spends most of his time sitting around his trailer in Florida fantasizing about women. But one afternoon a particularly strange fantasy turns into a life-changing epiphany. Suddenly he knows how to curtail sexual harassment in the office and increase productivity.…
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DeWitt is the sort of writer to whom engineering – the right mark in the right place, getting the message through – matters as much as exposition.
—David Trotter, London Review of Books
As far as I’m concerned, DeWitt can write whatever she wants.
—Kaitlin Phillips, Artforum
Step outside of orthodoxy, free the mind. For that insight alone, keeping up with Helen DeWitt remains an essential, invigorating and wickedly pleasurable way to spend your time.
—Charles Arrowsmith, Los Angeles Times
DeWitt has plenty of stories to tell about mercenary literary agents, feckless editors and the systematically thwarted ambitions of artists. Her brilliant new novella, The English Understand Wool, is such a saga. Told, like her previous novels, from the point of view of an obsessive personality, this clever little book revolves around the education of seventeen-year-old Marguerite by her French mother on the rules of bon ton. DeWitt has a knack for delivering acutely eccentric ideas with such intense frequency and in a no-nonsense tone that readers become almost persuaded of their unarguable logic.
Spectator World
Helen DeWitt will make you laugh until you cry.
—Alexandra Schwartz, The New Yorker
DeWitt certainly has some more tricks up her sleeve.
Chicago Review
At times I’ve thought of “geniuses” as those lucky individuals who turn out to have a destiny, one they can convince themselves and many others of at once. To me, DeWitt is an exception: No matter the vicissitudes of the publishing industry, she remains the real deal.
—Hannah Gold, Village Voice
DeWitt’s bracing experiments are risks worth taking.
—Madeleine Schwartz, Dissent
Brilliant and inimitable Helen DeWitt: patron saint of anyone in the world who has to deal with the crap of those in power who do a terrible job with their power, and who make those who are under their power utterly miserable. Certain stories have something in common with dreams: they’re expressions of the creator’s wish-fulfillment. Helen DeWitt’s wishes are distinct in American literature — in world literature, as far as I know.
—Sheila Heti, Electric Literature
There is much madness in DeWitt’s method, a madness of pure logic. Hilarious.
—Hermione Hoby, The New York Times Book Review
Ruthlessly honest about the sausage making of literary production … DeWitt’s stories are devastatingly specific, and yet they serve as broad parables about the inevitability of being misunderstood, both as an artist and as a person.
Paris Review Daily
DeWitt is the sort of artist that doesn’t back away from her vision, and she takes the reader with her. A polyglot with a PhD in Classics from Oxford, DeWitt wields an immense intellect that, in each of her books, she uses to cynically delight her readers.
Los Angeles Review of Books
A tremendous novel. DeWitt is one of the most interesting writers working in the English language today.
—David Flusfeder
Fiercely intelligent, very funny and unlike anything else I’ve ever read.
—Mark Haddon
DeWitt’s stories are comic and intricate, and cut against the grain of current American fiction in the best of ways.
—Christian Lorentzen, Vulture
DeWitt pushes against the limitations of the novel as a form; reading her, one wants to push against the limitations of one’s own brain.
—Miranda Popkey, The Paris Review
An intellectual powerhouse, laugh-out-loud funny in unexpected ways.
—Ilana Teitelbaum, The Huffington Post
Her books assert (and often attest) that a work of fiction can encompass many kind of knowledge–probability theory, scatterplots of data, tables of non-Roman alphabets–without compromising its form.
—Lindsay Gail, Los Angeles Review of Books
DeWitt’s fiction is lethal, limitless, and economical. She has more fun on the page than most.
The Rumpus
DeWitt pushes against the limitations of the novel as a form; reading her, one wants to push against the limitations of one’s own brain.
The Paris Review
A triumph—a genuinely new story, a genuinely new form.
—A. S. Byatt, The New Yorker
The most well-executed literary sex comedy in ages.
An absurdist comedy of the American workplace and the indignities faced by employees in today’s turbo-capitalism, a quietly seething feminist critique of pornography and the commodification of women, and a category-defying fable about the meaninglessness of success.
—David Annand, The Telegraph
A tightly disciplined and extremely funny satire on office politics, sexual politics, American politics, and the art of positive thinking.
The Guardian
[Helen DeWitt] tunes into the contemporary American idiom and its corporate-speak with perfect pitch.
The Rumpus
DeWitt is a brutal humorist…uproariously funny.
The Wall Street Journal
It so emphatically aces the tasks it sets for itself, and delivers such a jolt of pleasure along the way, that it reminds me of just how major a minor work can be… At any rate, as one of her endearingly flummoxed characters might say, I literally cannot wait to see what she does next.
—Garth Risk Hallberg, The Millions
DeWitt’s wickedly smart satire deserves to be a classic.
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