I have written about Thomas Bernhard’s novels before, but faced with prospect of writing a longer critical review of a book containing four short stories I was faced with a dilemma: What does one say about Bernhard?
The question really is: How much familiarity with Bernhard should one assume? He is, most definitely, a singular writer. Those of us who count ourselves among the converted tend to have bulging bookshelves filled with a healthy supply of Bernhard’s novels, memoirs and poetry. Others are uncertain or fail to be immediately captivated. A bit of Bernhard primer is thus in order for those potential new readers, especially in this instance, because Goethe Dies, the collection at hand, offers a perfect opportunity to experience the magic of the master in miniature. A treat I argue for readers no matter their degree of prior acquaintance.
So in the following review published at Numéro Cinq earlier this week I tried to balance my general discussion of Bernhard’s prose style to provide a context for the appreciation of my analysis of the stories that would not be too redundant for the experienced or too vague for the novice.
Here’s a taste of the review, please click through the link at the end to read the rest. And while you’re there have a look around. There is another great issue shaping up at NC.
A Master Set Loose in a Small Space: Review of Thomas Bernhard’s Goethe Dies — Joseph Schreiber
Once acquainted with the work of the late Austrian writer, Thomas Bernhard, it is difficult to remain indifferent. One is either put off by his endlessly convoluted sentences, his bitter, misanthropic vision, and his fondness for digressive, contradictory and self-obsessed narratives; or one is swept up in the singular energetic flow of his darkly comic genius and never looks back. For those who find themselves in the latter camp, the announcement of a newly translated collection of four short stories originally published in periodicals in the early 1980’s is good news indeed.
Bernhard in short form may lack the unleashed full force intensity afforded when a single paragraph is allowed to unspool over one or two hundred pages or more; but these minor works, if you like, offer a valuable and entertaining opportunity to observe a master at play in a small, contained space. As with the early stories of Prose and the micro-fiction of The Voice Imitator, the short pieces collected in Goethe Dies, recently released by Seagull Books, highlight many of the essential elements that lend Bernhard’s work such a distinctive, infectious voice. Consequently, they may be best appreciated against a certain familiarity with the author and the idiosyncratic features that characterize his novels.
2 thoughts on “Goethe Dies by Thomas Bernhard – My Numéro Cinq review”
I have not read any works of Austrian authors. Great review of the book. I think I might enjoy this one
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It is likely a good introduction to Bernhard. He is worth trying, but a very unique writer. If you want to try one of his novels Gargoyles, an early work eases you in to his signature style and Wittgenstein’s Nephew which is semi-autobiographical is, to me, the closes to soft and cuddly, that Bernhard ever gets.
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