Austrian writer Bernhard shows once again that he is not only a clever and difficult writer, but a lyrical and philosophical one, too. Here, his nameless narrator, more splenetic though less ill than previous Bernhard voices (Gathering Evidence, Gargoyles, The Lime Works, Corrections, and Concrete), recounts ""an artistic dinner,"" as he calls it, in Vienna. The evening ostensibly honors an acclaimed Burgtheater actor who plays Ekdal in Ibsen's Wild Duck, while its undercurrent focuses on the suicide of Joana, a choreographer whose funeral the dinner guests attended earlier that day. By evening's end, the narrator has vilified every guest, including the hosts, the Auersbergers, a drunken, failed Webern-like composer and his social-climbing, wealthy wife. Finally, the narrator arrives at an epiphany about himself and these artists through a drunken, post-midnight diatribe delivered by the Burgtheater actor. Bernhard is at once experimental and of the century's best traditions, and a pantheon of great writers (Beckett, Kafka, and Borges) comes to mind in reading his richly textured prose. (Bernhard's musical, repetitious style often echoes Virginia Woolf and Gertrude Stein, and two of the dinner guests, are referred to sarcastically as Vienna's equivalent of these writers.) As Dublin became the city of James Joyce, latter 20-century Vienna becomes Bernhard's city. In all: a brilliant, demanding, meticulously intellectual novel.