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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?

This is not a downer book-the stories are short and the play on words is unique. The humor is dry, and the situations reveal the confusion that can happen in an ordinary interaction when one person prejudges the other. Additionally, the book has achieved major buzz in literary circles already by the concise story lines and unexpected details.

Special thanks to Seagull Books of London for the Review Copy
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on February 3, 2011
'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. In 'The Lime Works', I thought that the massive onslaught of negativity became so preposterous that it in turn seemed almost satirical, and that some of the most outrageous statements absurd to the point of comedy. Either the stories of 'Prose' were too short to ever get that overwhelming effect started, or else they were designed for a different response -- I did not find them depressing, but neither could I muster up much interest in them.

In a revealing afterward by the translator Martin Chalmers, he comments on the criminal element of these stories, and it was only through his thoughts that this collection gelled at all for me. Without them I believe I would have been more than slightly bewildered -- which also leads me to think that I'll benefit from re-reading this collection again someday. Regardless, I still feel as though this is a disappointing collection compared to what I've previously read -- I might suggest that these stories are for Bernhard completists only, but I suspect there are two types of Berhard readers: Those who are completists and those who read one work and are done. He doesn't strike me as an author that appeals to anyone half-heartedly. For those readers who have not yet read Thomas Bernhard and are curious, I would suggest they begin elsewhere - if they then find his work appealing, then chances are they may also find 'Prose' worthwhile.
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on July 28, 2010
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. The pages are thick and opaque, I thought as I, again, did not begin reading immediately but leafed through the book in my hands. Again, I came back to the end-papers, wondering why the manufacturer decided not to use a different color for the end-papers. Why not use a charcoal color, I thought, as I began the first of what would ultimately be seven short stories by Thomas Bernhard, who died in 1989 and whose work had become increasingly popular over the years in the United States. But before reading a word I noticed that the book's paper gave off a scent not unlike that of a church missal, which made me wonder if the paper the book was printed on was normally used for the printing of sacred texts and not the work of Thomas Bernhard, who, while not ever mentioning God once in his work does not not mention God. I could not lay the book flat. But none of this bothered me when I began, finally, to read the short stories, some of them better than others, some of them suggesting possibilities that would further be fleshed out in later works, others that made me feel a little embarrassed for the young writer, stories that simply fizzled. (But still better than ninety-nine percent of the so-called fiction out there!) Typical Bernhardian subject matter: madness, anxiety, depression, inner angst. Characters thinking about giving up, but not giving up, going forward without thinking about going forward. Bernhard loved music and so valued a great beginning and end. I have found these here, I think, as I thought I might but was not quite ready to when the book arrived unexpectedly two weeks ago.
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