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The Loser: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2006


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (October 17, 2006)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 9781400077540
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400077540
  • ASIN: 1400077540
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,710 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

For music lovers, perfectionists, and estheticians, Thomas Bernhard's The Loser (1983) poses an irresistible drama of failed excellence. In 1953 three friends, among whom is the famed Glenn Gould, study with Horowitz. Rarely sleeping, hardly eating, they burn intensely with the white and ruthless flame of virtuosity. Only Gould ascends. But this is no conventional narrative--neat, action-driven, or linear. It opens with the specter of death--Gould's at 51, and a suicide. Art exalts even as it destroys, when the aspirant is found wanting. Both Wertheimer, the suicide, and the narrator turn their backs on their musical careers, thus triggering their process of "deterioration." What is the consequence of throwing it all away? And yet, what are the rewards of realized genius? After Gould becomes, indeed, Glenn Gould, the two friends go to visit him in Canada. "He had barricaded himself in his house. For life. All our lives the three of us have shared the desire to barricade ourselves from the world. All three of us were born barricade fanatics."

Bernhard fans will recognize the restrained rant, the execution of an idea carried to a logical, caustic extreme. The rant creates, of the novel, a grand philosophical speculation: What is devotion to one's art? What is it to truly understand one's art and to not misuse one's gift? And, alas, The Loser can also be read as the profound consequence of perfectionism, whereby all efforts to create or execute anything of note are squashed in the critical mind's ruthless self-scrutiny. The narrator works, for example, on his Glenn Gould essay for nine years, grateful, in the end, that he has published nothing. "How good it is that none of these imperfect, incomplete works has ever appeared, I thought, had I published them.... [T]oday I would be the unhappiest person imaginable, confronted daily with disastrous works crying out with errors, imprecision, carelessness, amateurishness." The one regenerative act seems to be that of self-destruction. Destruction, indeed, becomes the flip side of perfectionist rigor. Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) was his own unique genius and in The Loser, one of his most acclaimed novels, he creates a chilling portrait of tragic compulsion, teasing and testing our assumptions human behavior. --Hollis Giamatteo --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

The late Austrian novelist meditates on Glenn Gould, the Canadian virtuoso pianist, in this fictive memoir of an imaginary friendship between Gould and the narrator. (June) Also forthcoming from Vintage International in June is Gathering Evidence ($14 *
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Brilliant insight into the artist's mind.
Hurt
The Loser* is ultimately a novel for those who find language more intriguing than story, the mind's interior struggle for meaning more dramatic than physical incident.
Mark Nadja
This book is not about music, really, even though all 3 main characters are musicians, best piano performers in the world.
vs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 35 people found the following review helpful By Mark Nadja on April 29, 2007
Format: Paperback
Open to the first page, take a deep breath, and begin reading--if you do it just right, it'll be hard to stop until you reach the end of this extraordinary 170-page diatribe of envy, spite, self-loathing, and misanthropy that plumbs the depth of the narrator's all-inclusive contempt for life and practically everyone living it, including himself. We're talking a novel that is one uninterrupted paragraph from beginning to end, spoken by one character, who's not very reliable, and quite possibly entirely demented. It's as if one of the more troubled heroes of a Dostoyevsky novel escaped to deliver a monologue written by Samuel Beckett. That'll give you an approximate idea of the style of *The Loser,* which is definitely not for everyone, the novel being more about the labyrinthine workings of an obsessed mind than it is about the ostensible events of the so-called "plot." This plot--the intertwined fate of three young musicians, one of whom happens to be the famed piano artist Glenn Gould, and another who commits suicide--becomes the touchstone Bernhard uses to explore his themes of artistic ambition and the destructive power of genius, as well as the double-sided nature of friendship.

Bernhard, like Beckett, was a playwright, and it shows in the intricate, serpentine "speech" the narrator delivers in *The Loser*--in fact, it might even be more rewarding if one were to read the text out loud to better "hear" the full intent of Bernhard's lush and cadenced "madman's" prose. For the novel is indeed a soliloquy: contradictory, ironic, by turns concealing and revealing, a confession that confesses the very impossibility of telling the absolute truth.

*The Loser* is ultimately a novel for those who find language more intriguing than story, the mind's interior struggle for meaning more dramatic than physical incident. As such, it's a work of the first order. I cant recommend it highly enough.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Chicken Muffin on November 28, 2010
Format: Kindle Edition
People love to read books about heroes and immerse themselves in what it's like to succeed, but few contemplate what it's like to be on the other side; what it's like to give up.

The Loser is a snapshot of such a man who is, ironically, destroyed by his own genius and perfectionism in the face of another genius. Unlike his competition, The Loser (who lacks self direction and confidence), and Glenn Gould (who is brilliant but only capable of achieving, not of seeing his faults), the narrator is capable of seeing his flaws and misfortunes alongside his ability, a deadly combination which leads to his demise and despair. He seems to recognize, but not actually admit to himself, that he gave up his one chance at happiness, but by being so concerned with his past blunders he neglects his fortunes, most notably that he is the only one of the three central characters in the book who is still alive.

I admit that this is the only book by Bernhard I have read (though I now plan to read more), and I only read it because, ironically, I had become obsessed with Glenn Gould during a research project. Needless to say, I was taken by surprise. This isn't a book about Glenn Gould, it's about genius and its effects on the psyche of the men who existed alongside it; the ones you never hear about because they didn't achieve what they had in mind. But it's not just about failure, it's about the even more frightening realization that one did not succeed not because he has yet to, but because he cannot.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Steiner VINE VOICE on October 28, 2010
Format: Paperback
A masterful creation about artistic genius, jealousy, betrayal, and failure. Thomas Bernhard has constructed an immensely readable novel about the competitive relationship between three piano virtuosos, and how Glenn Gould drives the other two into self-abdication. The Loser puts Bernhard's own inimitable voice into the central character as he attempts to piece together the protracted process of descent his friend and colleague falls prey to. This text has astonishingly accomplished portraits of the nature of artistic genius and its strangely bewitching tendencies. In the final analysis, Bernhard asks us-as well as himself-whether or not we can truly face our own insurmountable limitations and appreciate divine genius when we finally encounter it. Unfortunately for his protagonists, and perhaps for himself, the answer to that question is a resounding "No."
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By M. Nicolai on December 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
Length: 2:09 Mins
A few words on one of the great writers of our time.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Lao Chuang on May 26, 2008
Format: Paperback
Read about Thomas Bernhard from an article on Susan Sontag. She was effusive about his work.

The Loser is a meditation on the plight of the genius and his pursuit of artistic perfection. It's a dense novel--be prepared to trudge through a non-linear narrative and condensed prose. Indeed, as the translator points out, Bernhard doesn't use the language in a conventional way. His sentences are extended, complex, and the verb tenses are rarely in agreement. His narrator reminisces incidents from the past based on fragments of thoughts, freely skipping from one event to another, and often recounting an event numerous times.

The Loser in the novel refers to Wertheimer. Both the narrator and Wertheimer were promising classical pianists before they met Elliot Gould in a seminar with Horowitz. Gould's sublime rendition of Bach's Goldberg Variations ended any illusion about their musical talent--not that they're without talent, but they fall short of the defining quality of a genius. For them, they're either the best or they're nothing.

The narrator survives the trauma by building a wall of indifference around him. He gives away his Steinway piano to a girl student without talent and writes thesis and books that have no literary nor scholarly worth. Wertheimer can't deal with living under the shadow of Gould and takes a more drastic way out.

Much of the most illuminating thoughts of the novel are couched in aphorisms. This is a reflection of Wertheimer's ultimate talent--he's a genius of aphorisms and not sustained argument. Wertheimer is supposedly based on Ludwig Wittgenstein, whose best works are extended aphorisms. Be patient with the novel and one or more of these aphorisms would strike you with a truth that holds you breathless.
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