Pick me a Thomas Bernhard book.
November 21, 2006 12:18 PM   Subscribe

I want to read something by Thomas Bernhard. I understand that his works are incredibly bleak, but that they lie on a continuum: ranging from blackly humorous to straight-up splenetic. If I am a fan of Hilary Mantel, which Bernhard book might be good to start with?
posted by everichon to Media & Arts (11 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I'm not familiar with Hilary Mantel, but I will suggest Wittgenstein's Nephew as a good place to start with in terms of Bernhard -- it was the first of his that I read, and I loved it. Old Masters might also be a good first Bernhard, too.
posted by scody at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2006

The only one I've read is The Loser, but it was damn good and I recommend it highly.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:49 PM on November 21, 2006

God, he's great. GREAT. I found Cutting Timber, aka The Woodcutters to be very funny and really good. It's splenetic to be sure, but very wry. It's part of a trilogy on the arts, the second book of the three, focused on the theater. The other books are The Loser, and Old Masters, which contains Bernhard's explicit attack on Heildegger.
posted by OmieWise at 12:51 PM on November 21, 2006

Oh, sorry, I forgot to mention my favorite Bernhard, which is the collection of very short short stories called The Voice Imitator. It's bleak in parts, but also funny in parts. It's something close to 100 brilliant little stories about death, most less than half a page in length. It's a slim book, and does, I think, give a good sense of Bernhard's beautiful and frugal prose, and some of his touchstones. I'm not sure that it really counts as representative, though. It's really excellent, and can be read quickly and then savored, like any really good confection.
posted by OmieWise at 12:54 PM on November 21, 2006

I've only read Extinction and Old Masters: I found both to be quite relentlessly splenetic but nevertheless magnificent. For me, Extinction was the better book of the two. I'd have to say neither was at all like the one book of Mantel's I've read (Fludd).
posted by misteraitch at 1:03 PM on November 21, 2006

Ha, that's why I didn't mention Mantel at all, because I've also only read Fludd and that didn't seem to have any bearing.
posted by OmieWise at 1:17 PM on November 21, 2006

Correction is a great read and if you really get into Bernhard, you should read Gitta Honegger's book Thomas Bernhard: The Making of an Austrian, which is truly excellent.

Full disclosure: Gitta is a former professor and personal friend of mine.
posted by idledebonair at 1:19 PM on November 21, 2006 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you all, this is excellent.
posted by everichon at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2006

I cannot believe that nobody mentioned Frost
posted by matteo at 2:54 PM on November 21, 2006

There's an excellent collection of interviews, called 'Aus Gesprächen mit Thomas Bernhard', that at least explain why he could be so angry at Austria.

My favourite Bernhard's are two autobiographical ones. 'Das Kind' and 'Die Kälte'.

I do wonder how his trademark sentences without an end yet with a repeat translate into English. Not sure I am willing to find out.
posted by ijsbrand at 4:02 PM on November 21, 2006

One thing to know about Bernhard (though others may disagree with me) -- he wrote the same book over and over again. In my experience, if you've read one Bernhard book, you've read them all. I'm not saying he's not great --- he is --- but his books are all iterations of the same themes, written in a similar style.

I liked Extinction. I think the Loser (about the pianist Glenn Gould) is a good one. Correction was great --- it seems loosely based on Wittgenstein's forays into architecture (though all I remember of it is Bernhard's protagonist obsessing over a bizarre cone-shaped structure his brilliant friend built in a forest).
posted by jayder at 4:43 PM on November 21, 2006

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