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Prose (Seagull Books - Seagull World Literature) Hardcover – September 15, 2011

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"This newly translated collection of Thomas Bernhard’s prose, Prose, should be welcomed as a major event in contemporary letters. Most of these stories, in classic Bernhard fashion, take as their subject a failure who will not fail, a madman who will not go mad, an impossible suicide—a suicide always reverting back to what the 'I,' the voice which insists itself, can or would do—has, would have, or will have done. Translator Martin Chalmers renders Bernhard’s German with poetic precision, and without missing any earmarks of the latter’s dense and rich writing style: sentences which wind around themselves, and which constantly, in multiform ways, miss and re-encounter their subjects—which are always ending and beginning again, repeating or forgetting themselves. Each one of the seven stories in Prose shimmers with the shadow contained in—and containing—any one of Bernhard’s novels."—Faster Times (Alec Niedenthal Faster Times)

"Fortunately, for all of its easily identifiable Bernhardian preoccupations—its suicides and murderers, its haunted characters—the previously untranslated story collection Prose provides, in miniature, both an ideal introduction and a refresher to the work of one of the singular European writers of the twentieth century."
(Stephen Sparks Three Percent)

“Thomas Bernhard is a god. . . . Prose is his first story collection, originally published in 1967 and, amazingly, not once translated into English until 2010. It was worth the wait. This is Bernhard being Bernhard (as he always was)–the endless paragraphs; the mordant, suicidal, probably insane narrators; the incredible mastery of language. . . . Certainly one of the best things I read this year.”

(Scott Esposito Conversational Reading)

Prose is most interesting . . . as a marker of the evolution of Bernhard’s style and sensibility. In ‘The Carpenter,’ we encounter the line ‘The fault lies with the state,’ which would practically become Bernhard’s mantra; in ‘The Cap,’ there is the equally familiar narrator who feels ‘always close to going completely mad, but not completely mad.’”

(Dale Peck New York Times Sunday Book Review)

"The neuroticism and cruelty on display in these seven newly translated short stories leave you short of breath but entirely absorbed – or, more accurately, entrapped. The theme of imprisonment runs through the collection, and Thomas Bernhard forces us to confront his characters' sense of confinement with dizzying, claustrophobic whirls of syntax. . . . In theme and style, Prose, which was originally published in 1967, closely echoes Bernard novels such as Old Masters and Concrete. It provides an excellent introduction to his work, or a satisfying reading experience in itself for those who like angst in small doses." (Mina Holland Observer)

"[The] vision of the world's absurdity, futility, and evil is a constant in Bernhard's work. What varies is the mood or spirit in which the vision is enforced."
(New York Review of Books)

About the Author

Thomas Bernhard grew up in Salzburg and Vienna, where he studied music. In 1957, he began a second career as a playwright, poet, and novelist. He went on to win many of the most prestigious literary awards of Europe.Martin Chalmers is a translator and editor whose translations include works by Hubert Fichte, Ernst Weiss, Herta Mueller, Alexander Kluge, Emine Sevgi Oezdamar, and Erich Hackl.


Product Details

  • Series: Seagull Books - Seagull World Literature
  • Hardcover: 180 pages
  • Publisher: Seagull Books (September 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1906497567
  • ISBN-13: 978-1906497569
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.9 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,088,067 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers

It's really tough to be brilliant. In fact, for the men in these seven short stories, their unimaginable intelligence seems to cause them more confusion than triumph. While successful in their fields, they barely manage to exist in the real world. This leads to all sorts of issues: mostly amusing, often strange, but quite atypical to what one would expect from a genius.

With these stories, Bernhard exposes a part of human nature that goes beyond intelligence. The confusion that comes from being set apart as different, the difficulties of doing something new when everyone else thinks you already know the drill, and what to do when things don't make sense. It's subtle but it's apparent that these guys are almost defective because of their genius. They seem unable to understand sarcasm or even affection.

Much of their time is spent dealing with insomnia (apparently sleep can seem impossible with all those big thoughts spinning around), pacing miles of streets each day, and second-guessing their every action as they try to fit into the world.

The stories are at times heartbreaking or alternatively, riotously funny. One man finds a hat, a trivial piece of nothing, and makes it the course of every waking moment to find the owner, in a small town where everyone owns that same damn hat. Yet to him, it must have value because it exists. Another story finds two men, both deformed from birth and subject to the hatred of their families, who try to develop an existence that is normal; yet when you meet their family, you truly begin to wonder who actually is deformed. The emotionally deformed parent who abuses their helpless child, or the scorned child himself?
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During the second week of July, having arrived home from a short vacation in Boston, I was surprised to see a package on my doorstep. I was further surprised to find inside Thomas Bernhard's 'Prose', a book which I had ordered and which had had an expected released date of August 15. I was not at all in a frame of mind for reading, or even leafing through, Thomas Bernhard's 'Prose,' but there it was, having arrived anyway like an unexpected guest on my doorstep, ahead of schedule. Normally, I wouldn't mind that an item arrive ahead of schedule, but I was not at all prepared for even the most cursory glance through the one hundred and sixty or so pages that make up 'Prose.' I set the book aside for several days and finally, in a moment of calm, unwrapped the cellophane from it. I do not recall ever having bought a book that was wrapped in cellophane. I immediately noticed that the book's cover was much more colorful than the image I had seen online. I noticed, too, after removing the book's sleeve, that its binding was a deep red. Altogether my impression was that this book has to be the most colorful presentation of Bernhard's work to date, his other books having fairly drab covers. That was about it for the first day. I did not bother to leaf through the contents yet, because I knew how intense Bernhard's work can be. Another day passed and I was braced to read the book's contents, and so I began. Before reading a single word, however, I could not help but check the details on the copyright page. I noticed that the book was printed in India. The printing job seemed fine, but I was struck that whoever put the book together had decided to use the same materials for the end-papers as for the book's binding.Read more ›
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'Prose', as it appears here, was originally published in 1967 but was passed over for English translation until just recently, in 2010. It was written in the same period as The Lime Works, which is the only other work by Thomas Bernhard that I've read, and which was also the reason I was eager to read more of this unique and peculiar author.

The stories of 'Prose' are each tangentially concerned with a crime, although one might not know it from their presentation. In fact, sometimes the actual crime is so far removed that it never appears in the story at all -- Bernhard focuses rather on the mental torment, anguish and guilt his characters experience either as perpetrator, victim, or bystander. That Bernhard zeroes in on these particular feelings is probably not surprising for the reader familiar with his other writing -- to my own ears, the stories of 'Prose' sound almost like practice for the twisted ramblings of the narrator of 'The Lime Works'. Here, as in the later work, Bernhard's voices are unreliable and eerie, twisting back and forth on themselves until, as a reader, I experience an effect not unlike looking at an Escher staircase.

When this works, it seems as though Berhard is able to raise interesting speculations about the workings of human mind that are difficult to get at or describe conventionally -- or perhaps it is just a way of looking at common behavior in an unusual way. Either way, it can also be somewhat draining; Bernhard is not a cheerful fellow, although I suppose that depends on the reader and the specific work of his they are reading.
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