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Woodcutters    by Thomas Bernhard order for
by Thomas Bernhard
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Vintage, 2010 (1988)

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*   Reviewed by Bob Walch

First released in 1984 by Thomas Bernhard, this novel, translated from the German by David McLinock, is as unsettling today as it was when it first appeared.

The narrator engages in a 181 page monologue which is nothing more than a series of tirades against everyone and everything around him. The unnamed writer has just been to the funeral of an acquaintance who committed suicide and he is now at an artistic dinner being held at a home in the Gentzgasse in Vienna.

Refusing to socialize with the other guests, the loner sits in a wingchair in a corner and lets the criticism fly. Those attending the party are described as revolting, gross, inept, ridiculous, repugnant, repellent, pathetic, mindless, riffraff and nonentities. As he exhausts his list of negative adjectives on these sedulous apes and unsavory petite bourgeois, it becomes all too apparent that this is a prime example of the pot calling the kettle black.

The outbursts of disgust for those around him is only matched by the man's own self-loathing. Looking back on his own fifty years of existence he also alludes to his own irrational behavior and his love of playing this disgusting observation game. Of course, the key word here is irrational because that fits this narrative perfectly.

Not only does anyone who tries to read this novel face a serious challenge posed by its contents, but since the monologue does not use any paragraphs, the resulting page-upon-page of unbroken type is very unappealing. You have to force yourself to move through the text and it is probably better to digest it in small increments than try to read for an extended period of time.

The erratic stream of consciousness approach the author utilizes is also accompanied by continual repetition of bits of information and key phrases. For example, you are continually reminded where the narrator is sitting, who his hosts are, and where their apartment is located.

On one page alone the reader is reminded seven times that the novel is set in Vienna and later on the narrator, on a single page, repeats nine times that he has 'fallen into a trap' by attending this party and associating with these people. If you begin counting how many times you are told he is sitting in a wingchair, the tally will easily top 70.

Although this novel will try the reader's patience, it does hold a certain fascination because it allows a glimpse into the mind of an outlandish and unusual character. In some respects, this narrator is reminiscent of a few of Edgar Allan Poe's mentally unbalanced characters.

Thomas Bernhard (1931-89) was wildly read in Germany, Austria and other parts of Europe during his lifetime. The narrative approach and misanthropic, obsessive and self-mocking narrator featured in this novel was also in evidence in many of his other books and plays.

For those looking for a radical change of pace from contemporary fiction and interested in a protagonist who is the antithesis of what one usually finds in serious novels, this might be an interesting read. But, remember, this will be an unconventional literary experiences in most respects!

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