A short unparagraphed novel by the Austrian Bernhard (Woodcutters; Concrete; etc.), partly an autobiographical memoir,...

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WITTGENSTEIN'S NEPHEW: A Friendship

A short unparagraphed novel by the Austrian Bernhard (Woodcutters; Concrete; etc.), partly an autobiographical memoir, that's an intellectually challenging meditation on the place of the artist in the chaotic modern world. In 1967, the narrator (Bernhard) is bedridden in the same hospital as Wittgenstein's nephew Paul, who has been institutionalized for mental disease. Bernhard, a lung patient who must constantly move between the city and the country for his health (once he leaves the hospital), enters into a kind of friendship with Paul, who fascinates him and becomes finally his doppelganger. In a leisurely essaylike narrative, Bernhard chronicles Paul's circumstances--after squandering his millions on the poor and becoming destitute, he deteriorates, and his attacks come more frequently as he practices madness in the way his uncle practiced philosophy. As Bernhard and Paul live in fear of death, they argue about everything from music (to Bernhard, Karajan is a genius; to Paul, a charlatan) to motor racing (to Bernard, it's brainless; to Paul, it's music). There are also several set-pieces: most amusing is a Kafkaesque, blackly humorous telling of Bernhard's attempt to receive a writing award from a sullen and insulting group of people. Bernhard goes on to meditate on sickness (the healthy and the sick have problems understanding one another) and memorializes Paul (discarded by his family as a fool) for a kind of integrity lacking in others (he refuses to take the world's business seriously). In the end, Bernhard becomes embittered by his friend's condition, but traces his dying from notes and memories. All in all, a poignant character portrait and meditation similar in tone and method to Peter Handke's A Sorrow Beyond Dreams.

Pub Date: Jan. 16, 1988

ISBN: N/A

Page Count: -

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1988