“Such are the perfections of fiction...Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness...There is more profit in an hour’s talk with Billy Graham than in a reading of Joyce. Graham might conceivably make you sick, so that you might move, go somewhere to get well. But Joyce just sends you out into the street, where the world goes on, solid as a bus. If you met Joyce and said 'Help me,' he’d hand you a copy of Finnegans Wake. You could both cry.” – Gilbert Sorrentino, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Book Review: Prose by Thomas Bernhard

By Thomas Bernhard
Seagull Books

Prose, which has just been translated into English for the very first time, was the very first book of short stories ever published by Thomas Bernhard, the Austrian author who would go on to become one of the most important and influential writers of the second half of the 20th Century. Bernhard is known for his digressive style, in which narrators speak to the reader in breathless monologues that jump from topic to topic. These narrators are typically obsessive, neurotic men, who find themselves unable to make contact with the larger world in any way whatsoever.
The stories in Prose are more or less miniaturised versions of Bernhard’s longer work. Most of the stories here are narrated by these disconnected characters, but often at the heart of their disjointed narratives is some sort of crime. The crimes involved can be as serious as murder and assault, or relatively innocuous. In ‘The Cap’ for example, a man finds a cap on the road while taking a walk; he becomes obsessed with returning the cap to its owner, lest anyone should think him a thief. But his attempts to find the cap’s owner are a comic failure; he goes from door-to-door in his neighbourhood, but his neighbours treat him with complete suspicion. His attempts to seem innocent only make him appear guilty of something else. ‘The Cap’ shows Bernhard at his very best; few writers could craft a motivating and interesting story out of the discovery of a lost object on the road.
Most literary debuts are a kind of glorified juvenilia – you can see the author still wrestling with form, voice and style. While Prose may not quite hit the highs of Bernhard’s very best work, neither can it be considered a lesser work either. The stories within prose are absolutely brilliant. This collection is both a must-read for any Bernhard fan and an excellent introduction for those who are interesting in reading this unusual and influential author. 

This review initially appeared on Triple R’s Breakfasters program. If you enjoy these reviews, then please support them by subscribing to Triple R as part of its Radiothon. You can subscribe by clicking here. This money goes to the station, not to me!


Anonymous said...

The Bernhard is NOT a WW Norton book! We publ;ished it from Seagull Books! Naveen Kishore, publisher

Emmett Stinson said...

Sorry, not sure how I missed that; I've corrected it above. Thanks.

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