“His manner of speaking, like that of all the subordinated, excluded, was awkward, like a body full of wounds, into which at any time anyone can strew salt, yet so insistent, that it is painful to listen to him,” from The Carpenter
The Austrian playwright, novelist, and poet Thomas Bernhard (1931–89) is acknowledged as among the major writers of our time. The seven stories in this collection capture Bernhard’s distinct darkly comic voice and vision—often compared to Kafka and Musil—commenting on a corrupted world.
First published in German in 1967, these stories were written at the same time as Bernhard’s early novels Frost, Gargoyles, and The Lime Works, and they display the same obsessions, restlessness, and disarming mastery of language. Martin Chalmer’s outstanding translation, which renders the work in English for the first time, captures the essential personality of the work. The narrators of these stories lack the strength to do anything but listen and then write, the reader in turn becoming a captive listener, deciphering the traps laid by memory—and the mere words, the neverending words with which we try to pin it down. Words that are always close to driving the narrator crazy, but yet, as Bernhard writes “not completely crazy.”
“Bernhard's glorious talent for bleak existential monologues is second only to Beckett's, and seems to have sprung up fully mature in his mesmerizing debut.”—From Publishers Weekly, on Frost
“The feeling grows that Thomas Bernhard is the most original, concentrated novelist writing in German. His connections . . . with the great constellation of Kafka, Musil, and Broch become ever clearer.” —George Steiner, Times Literary Supplement, on Gargoyles
About the Author
Thomas Bernhard grew up in Salzburg and Vienna, where he studied music. In 1957, he began a second career as a playwright, poet, and novelist. He went on to win many of the most prestigious literary awards of Europe. Martin Chalmers is a translator and editor whose translations include works by Hubert Fichte, Ernst Weiss, Herta Müller, Alexander Kluge, Emine Sevgi Özdamar, and Erich Hackl.
Table of Contents
Is it a Comedy? Is it a Tragedy?
Attaché at the French Embassy
The Crime of an Innsbruck Shopkeeper’s Son
Afterword: Crime Stories
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Translated from the German by Martin ChalmersIt's really tough to be brilliant. In fact, for the men in these seven short stories, their unimaginable intelligence seems to cause them more confusion than triumph. While successful in their fields, they barely manage to exist in the real world. This leads to all sorts of issues: mostly amusing, often strange, but quite atypical to what one would expect from a genius.With these stories, Bernhard exposes a part of human nature that goes beyond intelligence. The confusion that comes from being set apart as different, the difficulties of doing something new when everyone else thinks you already know the drill, and what to do when things don't make sense. It's subtle but it's apparent that these guys are almost defective because of their genius. They seem unable to understand sarcasm or even affection.Much of their time is spent dealing with insomnia (apparently sleep can seem impossible with all those big thoughts spinning around), pacing miles of streets each day, and second-guessing their every action as they try to fit into the world.The stories are at times heartbreaking or alternatively, riotously funny. One man finds a hat, a trivial piece of nothing, and makes it the course of every waking moment to find the owner, in a small town where everyone owns that same damn hat. Yet to him, it must have value because it exists. Another story finds two men, both deformed from birth and subject to the hatred of their families, who try to develop an existence that is normal; yet when you meet their family, you truly begin to wonder who actually is deformed. The emotionally deformed parent who abuses their helpless child, or the scorned child himself?This is not a downer book-the stories are short and the play on words is unique. The humor is dry, and the situations reveal the confusion that can happen in an ordinary interaction when one person prejudges the other. Additionally, the book has achieved major buzz in literary circles already by the concise story lines and unexpected details.Special thanks to Seagull Books of London for the Review Copy