- Paperback: 208 pages
- Publisher: Vintage (October 17, 2006)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1400077540
- ISBN-13: 978-1400077540
- Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.6 x 8 inches
- Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars See all reviews (36 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #137,398 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Loser: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2006
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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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Top Customer Reviews
If "Gargoyles" were a boxing match instead of a book and Bernhard a fighter you could say he came out swinging hard at the opening bell and faded away in the middle rounds...only to come back stronger than ever to knock you out cold in the end. The minimal plot describes a son who, having returned from university for the weekend, accompanies his physician father on his daily rounds through the countryside. The day starts offs with a brutal murder at a local inn and ends with a visit to a mad prince holed up in his mountain estate. In between, father and son check in on a variety of patients--each one of them a "gargoyle," a human grotesque, suffering from one or another of the awful maladies of existence. Hemmed in by illness, grief, loneliness, age, hopelessness, these poor souls are a parade of human misery, the victims of the horrors that flesh is heir to.
The son is the ostensible narrator of these events, but Bernhard has him take a primarily background role, letting the patients and their grim circumstances speak for themselves. This technique culminates in the final one hundred or so pages of *Gargoyles* which are mainly the text of an extended monologue by the novel's most intriguing character: the prince of a large and decaying estate who is clearly on the verge of the sort of insanity that may be the clearest wisdom of all.
It's precisely this extended monologue that proves to be the strongest--and weakest--part of the novel. There were stretches where this speech read like nothing more than the ravings of your typical schizophrenic--gibberish interspersed with the occasional gleam of brilliant insight and dark humor--and, as such, became somewhat tiresome. But just when you start to sense your eyes glazing over, Bernard kicks things into overdrive and the prince's monologue becomes a riveting panegyric of proverb and prophecy that relentlessly hammers shut every door that one might have hoped could lead to an escape from human despair. This `madman's monologue,' which at first seems mind-numbingly arbitrary and inconsistent builds in coherence and power until the novel's finale where Bernhard sets off a nihilistic fireworks display of devastating aphoristic brilliance. It's truly one of the great "mad rants" of world literature--a tour de force performance not to be missed.
Not without its weaknesses, *Gargoyles* is nonetheless a challenging and rewarding novel that manages, ultimately, to be more than a `mere' novel--but an irrefutable testament to the tragedy of the human condition...a tragedy that, incredibly, is not without its share of laughs.
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.