From Publishers Weekly
A student's increasingly erratic dispatches over 27 days comprise this obsessive first novel by Bernhard (1931–1989), published to European acclaim in 1963. An unnamed medical student is sent from Vienna by his supervisor, an eminent surgeon named Strauch, to undertake "precise observation" of the surgeon's brother, a famous painter who has suddenly left the city for the "dismal" village of Weng. After "systematically inveigling" himself into the company of the painter under the pretense of being a vacationing law student, the student slowly feels his own mood and mental attitudes being subsumed by the painter's paranoid outbursts and disjointed monologues. Weng itself, located in a grim valley still bearing the grisly traces of WWII, is a hotbed of murky scandal: the landlady sleeps with the village knacker
(handyman), while her husband, against whom she testified in a murder trial, sits in jail; a traveling show appears in the village displaying "deformed women and deformed animals"; a barn is torched. All are dutifully reported by the disintegrating student. Bernhard's glorious talent for bleak existential monologues is second only to Beckett's, and seems to have sprung up fully mature in his mesmerizing debut. (Oct. 19)
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Austrian Bernhard's first novel, which appeared in German in 1963, is being published in English for the first time in a translation that finely captures Bernhard's bitter, acerbic prose. The story follows an unnamed young medical student who is sent by a colleague to watch over an elderly painter named Strauch. What follows is roughly 300 pages of a dying, demented man spewing relentless bile and invectives against, well, everything. The modern world is a rotting chaos, the natural world a threatening lunacy, and memory and imagination nothing more than symptoms of the malignant disease of life. The younger man's mind, predictably, soon becomes infected by the elder man's corrosive diatribes. Bernhard, who died in 1989, would go on to achieve distinction as a playwright, poet, and novelist, but his first book is more an extended, free-association tirade than a novel, mapping out Bernhard's assured examinations into the language of isolation, paranoia, and futility. For readers who find Beckett too glib and Kafka a mere fusspot. Ian ChipmanCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved