EXTINCTION by Thomas Bernhard


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 The final novel, published in Germany in 1986, from the Austrian virtuoso (193189) whose bleakly pessimistic fiction (The Loser, 1991, etc.) echoes the classic misanthropy of his obvious literary ancestors, Jonathan Swift and Louis-Ferdinand CÇline. Bernhard's story comprises a breakneck monologue spewed forth by Franz-Josef Murau, an egalitarian sybarite whose estrangement from his wealthy provincial Austrian family takes him to live and teach in Rome. Murau's eggshell sensibility is roughly jolted when he's informed that his parents and older brother have been killed in an automobile accident and that he must return to the family estate, Wolfsegg, to join his sisters in settling their inheritance. The memories subsequently evoked cohere in a diatribe ``spoken'' in effect to the young Italian he tutors, with Murau exhaustively condemning his family's complacency, subliteracy, and vanity; his mother's ``errors of taste [and] megalomaniac idiocies'' (not to mention her adultery with a preening Roman Catholic archbishopor has he imagined this?); the ugly sweaters his sisters knit.... Nothing escapes the cold basilisk eye this accomplished cynic casts on his family and culture: The objects of his wrath include photography, socialism, Catholicism, doctors, pigeons, marriage, and German literatureeven Goethe (``Germany's foremost intellectual quack''). Few humans known to him elicit Murau's admirationthose few include dreamy cousin Alexander and cosmopolitan (deceased) Uncle Georg, a civilizing mentor who shared, as he shaped, his nephew's distaste for bourgeois values. What's amazing about this potentially monotonous outpouring of bile is the amount of fully described and analyzed life outside Murau himself to which his austere insularity gives detailed expression. McLintock's translation is superb: You can really hear Franz- Josef's whiny, petulant, hate-filled, self-hating voice. Not an easy read, but, still, a triumphant example of Bernhard's claustrophobic and challenging art. Its picture of a lonely, stunned, self-torturing soul is unforgettable.

Pub Date: Aug. 23rd, 1995
ISBN: 0-394-57253-X
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15th, 1995


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