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The Loser: A Novel Paperback – October 17, 2006

4.1 out of 5 stars 34 customer reviews

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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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Product Details

  • 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 (34 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #91,131 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
"The catastrophe begins with getting out of bed," writes Thomas Bernhard, and that one sentence can be said to sum up his view of human life. If you're of a tendency to agree, you're of a tendency to enjoy the work of literature's answer to anyone obtuse enough to tell you to "Have a Nice Day!" Just be sure to have plenty of Zoloft and Wellbutrin XL on hand because Bernhard is potent stuff.

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.
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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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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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