Woodcutters is widely recognised as Bernhard's masterpiece. It's a short novel, 181 pages, and is written in one long monologue, no paragraphs and no chapters, which takes a wee bit of getting used to. It's a satire novel and so is critical of Austrian society and it's values in the time period in which this is set, the 1980s. This is the second in a trilogy about the arts. The first is The Loser and the last is Old Masters.
from Amazon : "Over the course of a few hours, following a performance of Ibsen's The Wild Duck, we are in the company of the Auersbergers, and our narrator, who never once leaves the relative comfort of his 'wing-backed chair' where he sips at a glass of champagne. As they anticipate the arrival of the star actor, and the commencement of dinner, the narrator of Woodcutters dismantles the hollow pretentiousness at the heart of the Austrian bourgeoisie. The effect is devastating; the horror only redeemed by the humour." Except that I didn't see any humour in this at all.
Horror is correct, however. This is Bernhard at his cutting best. Vicious and nasty he takes no prisoners. Blunt and to the point the criticisms come thick and fast and nobody is spared, even the narrator us subjected to vicious criticism, but only occasionally. The prose is astonishing and while the criticisms are off-the-wall nasty they are also perceptive and revealing. As the evening wears on the narrator comes to feel some sympathy for the actor who states at the conclusion of the meal that he might have been better off being a simple woodcutter - there is a lot more to this book than just simple criticism
This book is amazing and well worth reading but you need to be strong to read the criticisms which are downright nasty.
Wittgenstein's Nephew by Thomas Bernhard is a semi-autobiographical account of his friendship with Paul Wittgenstein, the son of Ludwig Wittgenstein's (the philosopher) first cousin. The book, written in one 100page paragraph, is a sustained rant, often funny, and always acerbic. It's targets are legion, though it's primary sacred cows are Viennese society and the medical profession.
But he does give an interesting and well rounded assessment of Paul Wittgenstein, whose mental illness paralleled Bernhard's physical (primarily pulmonary) ailments, and he shows great honesty in his portrayal of both of them. There is nothing earth shattering here, but it is a thoughtful book, and to my lights an entertaining one. And a quick read to boot.
This book is considered to be Bernhard's best work. It's is a very short book, 189 pages or so. It is written in one long monologue and one long paragraph from beginning to end, which takes a wee bit of getting used to. There is one narrator who comes across as unreliable and rambling but who does actually get the story, albeit mostly depressing, told. The novel is about the intense relationship between three men, Glenn Gould (who actually existed but this novel is fiction) and two other men, all meeting at a real place as students of music (the Mozarteum in Salzburg). Glenn is portrayed as a genius and the other two are head and shoulders above the rest in abililty but not as good as Gould (I can't believe I just typed that!) and the effect this had on all three men. Gould dies of natural causes and Wertheimer (one of the other men but not the narrator) commits suicide, eventually. The narrator is unnamed and analyses the whole relationship between all three men from the beginning of said relationship - and the book - to the end - of both.
I found the book captivating and complicated at the same time. I took my time to read it and thoroughly enjoyed it and look forward to reading it again sometime in the future.
Highly recommended, the prose is very good indeed but the subject matter is definitely dark and there are some difficult issues to deal with.
ETA My thanks to Dan for introducing me to this author
ETA Just found out that this is part of a trilogy of the arts
Frost, by Thomas Bernhard, is a work of existential literature and, as such, it has no particular plot, though it does have a structure; the narrator, an unnamed medical intern, is tasked by his immediate superior with getting to know,and reporting on, the Doctor's estranged brother, a painter who no longer paints, a depressed and acerbic misanthrope living in a village isolated from progressive society.
The narrative consists primarily of the painter's rants, with occasional observations by the narrator. It reminded me in many places of Samuel Beckett, and while it was more accessible than Beckett it was also less absurdist, and to my mind, slightly less profound. It was also somewhat colder and more intellectual than Beckett. But Frost also manages several other character studies, both by using monologues by the character's themselves, and by differing view points from other characters. The writing is consistently good, sometimes great, and often poetic without ever being lyrical. Though the scattershot manner of the painter's rants, and their frequent non sequiturs, can be disconcerting and hard to follow. For me the greatest dramatic tension came from the question of whether or not the painter is insane. And, if so, does that actually invalidate his perceptions, since he clearly lives in that world? Which begs the bigger question- How much does our mental state and imagination affect our so-called reality? And are we all, to a greater or lesser extent, delusional? Is madness contagious? This is another theme of this book. For clearly ideas can be infectious, and when they are virulent,poisonous, and unbalanced, the result can certainly be debilitating. There was humor here, black and thunderhead grey, but I think some of it was lost in translation, and though what remained was often savage, it seemed more inclined to the petty and mean spirited variety. And the painter takes himself so seriously that I don't think he actually has a sense of humor. Ultimately I found the book to be too one sided, albeit reflective of the unbalanced mind of the painter. Even as misanthropic as I can be I recognize that there is some good in most people. And though I agree, as a devout pessimist, that everything always turns out for the worst eventually, I find that I can't agree with the assertion that life, regardless of its hollow emptiness, is an unrelenting, and unremitting, crapfest of a horror show. But that is the world as seen through the lenses of fear and ego. And it is hard to find flaws in the painter's negative reasoning, as when he says; "Cold is one of the great A-truths, the greatest of all the A-truths, and therefore it is all truths rolled into one. Truth is always a process of extermination, you must understand. Truth leads downhill, points downhill, truth is always an abyss. Untruth is a climbing, an up, untruth is no death, as truth is death, untruth is no abyss, but untruth is not A-truth, you understand: the great infirmities do not approach us from outside, the great infirmities have been within us, surprisingly, for millions of years..." So possibly it's my own delusional reluctance to acknowledge the validity of this overwhelmingly dark Weltanshaung that is the issue. But I think it is the absence in this book of even the possibility of a genuinely spiritual perception that is most off-putting. This would've been a much better read at 200, rather than 341, pages. But I'm glad I read it, if only for the questions it raised, rather than the answers it gave.