THE LOSER by Thomas Bernhard


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 Marvelous tour de force from the late Austrian writer Bernhard (Wittgenstein's Nephew, 1989, etc.): a mostly unparagraphed account, first published in 1983 in Germany, of an imaginary friendship with the pianist Glenn Gould. Included is a critical afterword by Mark Anderson on Bernhard's vitriolic relationship with the country of his birth. The narrator and his friend Wertheimer are obsessed with Gould (``the most important piano virtuoso in the world''), in part because he's reached a stature that neither of them will reach, in part because they so admire his unflinching devotion, `` possessed by his art that we had to assume he couldn't continue in that state for very long and would soon die.'' Like the narrator, Gould suffers from lung disease (Gould ``spoke of his lung disease as if it were his second art''). But soon enough the narrator gives up piano for ``philosophical matters'' and becomes a ``philosophical worldview artist,'' while Wertheimer, who flees (before his suicide) ``into the notion of the aphorist,'' goes downhill when his sister, practically his slave for years, finally leaves him to pursue her own life. Meanwhile, the story is in fact full of aphoristic gems and floating observations, often concerning Austrian philistinism, that are either clever and inventive or effectively splenetic in context. After Wertheimer hangs himself not far from his sister's house, in order to cast her ``into a lifelong guilt complex,'' the narrator concludes that ``we are the ones who continually want to escape from nature, but we can't do it, naturally...we get stuck halfway.'' Clever, difficult, and demanding: an apt swan song from an heir of Kafka and Beckett.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1991
ISBN: 0-394-57239-4
Page count: 176pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 1991


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