If you're willing to squirrel in and sneak past the obstacles that Bernhard insists upon--a whole book that's a single paragraph, page-long sentences, the arbitrary use of italics--maybe you'll be able to extract a moody but often witty and tender story from its philosophical pretensions and its socio-political (Austrian) context. Roithamer, a millionaire and ""existential genius,"" has committed suicide. So now his oldest friend and literary executor--the narrator--is occupying the garret in the house of a taxidermist that Roithamer used as a refuge for study; the narrator is sifting and sorting through Roithamer's papers, especially a bulky manuscript entitled ""About Altensam and everything connected with Altensam, with special attention to the Cone."" This essay describes Roithamer's years of obsession with a single absurdist project: to build his sister ""the perfect Cone""--""a skittle-shaped habitation"" in the middle of the Kobernausser forest. This Cone was indeed built, at vast expense, but the moment it was presented to the beloved sister, she fell prey to a terminal disease. What's more, the essay itself became Roithamer's downfall--as he corrected and corrected it. . . till it said the opposite of what he originally intended. All this the narrator muses on, as well as childhood memories, dinner with the taxidermist's taciturn family, and Roithamer's loathing for his landed-gentry (Altensam) background. And he worries about being infected by Roithamer's literary legacy: ""I fully expected to be annihilated or at least destroyed or at the very least to become permanently disturbed by it. . . ."" Repetitious, meditative, ironically analytical, occasionally shrill, the narrator's monologue (in Wilkins' convincing translation) sometimes brings off a singsong resonance reminiscent of Gertrude Stein--but never do Bernhard's mannerisms seem any more than mannerisms. Literati will find echoes (clear but weak) of Sartre and Beckett to salute here; more workaday readers will wonder if a genuine, even warm, story-teller isn't hiding behind all those nonstop sentences and intense broodings.