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Prose (Seagull World Literature) Hardcover – September 15, 2011
This month's Book With Buzz: "Little Fires Everywhere" by Celeste Ng
From the bestselling author of Everything I Never Told You, a riveting novel that traces the intertwined fates of the picture - perfect Richardson family and the enigmatic mother and daughter who upend their lives. See more
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"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)
“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)
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.
Top customer reviews
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.