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The Assignment: or, On the Observing of the Observer of the Observers

3.64  ·  Rating Details ·  254 Ratings  ·  37 Reviews
In Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s experimental thriller The Assignment, the wife of a psychiatrist has been raped and killed near a desert ruin in North Africa. Her husband hires a woman named F. to reconstruct the unsolved crime in a documentary film. F. is soon unwittingly thrust into a paranoid world of international espionage where everyone is watched—including the watchers. A ...more
Paperback, 129 pages
Published October 15th 2008 by University Of Chicago Press (first published 1986)
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Jan 03, 2015 Cosimo rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“Lei voleva andare nel deserto perché cercava un nuovo ruolo, il suo vecchio ruolo era stato quello di un'osservatrice di ruoli; ora lei si proponeva di tentare il contrario, non di fare un ritratto, il che presupponeva un oggetto, bensì di ricostruire, di fabbricare l'oggetto del suo ritratto per poter creare un cumulo di fronde con foglie singole sparse attorno, ma non poteva sapere se le foglie che lei accumulava erano anche affini, anzi, se alla fin fine non stesse ritraendo se stessa, un'im ...more
Review #2 of "Year of the Review All Read Books"

Proposal: The reader is doing the titular "observing." The author is the observer who observes the characters--it is revealed by the text that all the characters are in some way observers themselves (camera crews, government officials, amateur filmmakers).

Juvenal is the first recorded person (that I know of) to coin the sentiment "Quis custodiet ipsos custodet" Who watches the watchers? In Durrenmat's The Assignment, this task falls to everyone. E
Jeff Jackson
Nov 23, 2009 Jeff Jackson rated it really liked it
This experimental thriller largely lives up to its unlikely billing, reading like an international spy yarn that's been reworked by Paul Bowles then directed by David Lynch. It presents an astounding pile-up of doppelgangers, refracted identities, shifting landscapes, and simmering horror. It's arranged in short chapters that are one sentence each, adding to the novel's breathless pace. But then there's the ending. Instead of committing to the story's radical displacements, Durrenmatt serves up ...more
Dec 24, 2008 David rated it it was amazing
I really loved this metaphysical spy novel, which feels like the sort of thing that might have been written by someone who was locked in a cell with a paperback thriller for a space of years: the elements of espionage are there, the menace, the surveillance, the ill-defined mission that changes shape over time, the weaponry, the Middle East. Yet you know right away that something is different, first in the format: the novel consists of 24 ‘chapters,’ each of which is a single sentence, some stre ...more
Nicole Hardina
Oct 05, 2008 Nicole Hardina rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nicole by: Chris Howell
Shelves: spy-novels
This is an interesting piece of fiction. Crafted as it was upon the stylistic precedent of Bach's twenty-four movement piece, "The Well-Tempered Clavier," it seems at once metafiction and the avoidance of everything meta.

Like formally strict poetry, this piece opens as one realizes how much the author accomplished within his self-imposed confines. It is both flourishing and reductive at once, suggesting both that multiple characters and situations can be described in multiple tenses, that multi
Oto Oltvanji
Mar 10, 2017 Oto Oltvanji rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Krenuo sam da čitam sve što pronađem u prevodu od Fridriha Direnmata, švajcarskog dramskog pisca i prozaiste koji je pisao na nemačkom, uglavnom znanog kao dekonstrukcionista krimića. Postoje brojne ekranizacije njegovih dela, od kojih su najslavnije dve uspešne holivudske, POSETA STARE DAME (The Visit, 1964) Bernharda Vikija s Ingrid Bergman i Entonijem Kvinom, i ZAVET (The Pledge, 2001) Šona Pena sa Džekom Nikolsonom.

NALOG (Der Auftraf, 1986) mu je pozno delo (počeo je da objavljuje još 1947),
Jul 12, 2015 Tom rated it it was ok
Shelves: german-lit
When a 129 pg novel becomes a slog, you know you got big problems. I stuck with it only because of its numerical brevity, but stopped caring long before the end. A certain energy in the rambling, run-on prose kept me going, though how style contributes to themes of book escape me. the characters all struck me as mere mouth-pieces for D's riffs on power and corruption and ultimately impenetrable nature of observation (I think that's what it was about, anyway) and how all that contributes to repre ...more
Oct 28, 2015 Sean rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015

I read a lot of short novels and rarely do I find myself wishing they were longer or more substantial. But this book felt too short. And I would actually call this one a novella, although not simply due to word count. It would be a stretch to call this a novel for a number of reasons. It's stripped down to a borderline shortage of the essentials—to the detriment of the reading experience. There is so little character development. The plot moves so fast one is left wanting. Not that there weren't
Mar 24, 2017 Mirabilis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Eines der unbekannteren Werke Dürrenmatts, allerdings derart virtuos, dass man es bereut, es nicht eher gelesen zu haben. Eine komplette Novelle in 24 Sätzen - ja, das ist möglich, doch dass es bei all den Verschachtelungen an Nebensätzen lesbar bleibt, ist eine echte Kunst. Die Handlung selbst faszinierend, voller unvorhersehbarer Wendungen, dabei grotesk fesselnd. Interessant wäre eine Übertragung des Grundmotivs in den Bereich moderner Überwachungstechnologien - vom Beobachten des Beobachters ...more
I have no idea why everybody, at least in German-speaking circles, is not discussing this book at this very moment: NSA scandal / espionage / constant monitoring? Check. Drones and their pilots? Check. Technology race in warfare? Check. All to-the-point (it's Dürrenmatt!), poignant, and packed into one of the most interesting (because it works) experimental forms (the novella does indeed consists of exactly 24 sentences - every chapter one sentence) I've read lately. And written in 1986 - so als ...more
Jul 07, 2010 Alex rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This book became tedious because of the style Durrenmatt chose to write in: each chapter is only one sentence, even if the chapter itself is five pages. The premise is interesting, the plot develops nicely, the commentary on war and the ubiquity of surveillance is sharp-- but it often drags because of the contortions the author (or rather translator) has to make in order to avoid "." Perhaps in the original German it reads better; I don't know. I wouldn't recommend it, but I also wouldn't tell s ...more
Jun 16, 2014 John rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Not perhaps a connection that many other readers of Durrenmatt might initially make but it reads like a cross between Ballard and Brian Aldiss ('Report on Probability A' naturally) at times. That's before it spins off into some filmic psychopathic violence towards the end. I read it in the Picador white-spined edition and it sits very well with earlier favourites of that ilk/time despite being later: Nik Cohn, Borges, Brautigan, Calvino, Hesse etc. The 24 single-line-chapter conceit is effective ...more
R L Swihart
May 27, 2012 R L Swihart rated it it was amazing
Never picked up a Durrenmatt I didn't like. Also, hardly a claim to fame: I once met the inspiration for the girl with the red coat.
May 18, 2016 Tamy rated it liked it
Shelves: crime, mystery, read-2016
had many unexpected twists. i don't know how i actually feel about it, it was interesting mostly.
Apr 15, 2009 Emily added it
Shelves: read-in-2009
"When Otto von Lambert was informed by the police that his wife Tina had been found dead and violated at the foot of the Al-Hakim ruin, and that the crime was as yet unsolved, the psychiatrist, well known for his book on terrorism, had the corpse transported by helicopter across the Mediterranean, suspended in its coffin by ropes from the bottom of the plane, so that it trailed after it slightly, over vast stretches of sunlit land, through shreds of clouds, across the Alps in a snowstorm, and la
Alexia Polasky
2,5 estrellas.
THE ASSIGNMENT. (1986). Friederich Durrenmatt. ***.
Many years ago I read the play, “The Visit,” by this author, and was highly impressed at his talent as a writer. I looked forward to reading this novella, and expected more of the same. I was wrong. I can honestly say that this is a book that you shouldn’t put down; you might not pick it up again. It is written in a style where each chapter is one sentence long. This leads to run-ons and a variety of other awkward constructions that had me reeli
Jim Fonseca
Sep 23, 2013 Jim Fonseca rated it liked it
Shelves: german-authors
The wife of an elderly German psychoanalyst is killed at a religious shrine in North Africa. With no progress being made by the official investigation, and unable to travel himself, the husband hires a female documentary producer to travel there and investigate. Her trip turns into a surreal, nightmarish journey into "observing the observer of the observers," the book's subtitle. Everyone is being watched or followed by someone else and perhaps the wife's disappearance is related to her own husb ...more
Angelo Ricci
Un Dürrenmatt veramente innovativo quello de L’incarico, che esce per i tipi di Adelphi. Sono sempre stato affascinato dalle tematiche dello scrittore svizzero, definito più volte, e a ragione, come innovatore/destrutturatore del romanzo giallo o poliziesco o noir o come dir si voglia. Sta di fatto che Dürrenmatt prende a pretesto le trame poliziesche e le trasforma in icone paradigmatiche dell’orrore della quotidianità, orrore che permea la tranquilla banalità della vita e che tende le sue trap ...more
David Bonesteel
May 21, 2013 David Bonesteel rated it liked it
A filmmaker is hired to investigate the rape and murder of a woman in an unnamed North African country and becomes entangled in a web of secret plots and repressed sadism.

I am generally impatient with experimental literary techniques because they usually strike me as self-indulgences on the part of the author rather than attempts to communicate with the reader. However, there is something to be said for Friedrich Durrenmatt's use of chapters that consist of a single long sentence. It lends a cer
David B
Nov 14, 2013 David B rated it liked it
A filmmaker is hired to investigate the rape and murder of a woman in an unnamed North African country and becomes entangled in a web of secret plots and repressed sadism.

I am generally impatient with experimental literary techniques because they usually strike me as self-indulgences on the part of the author rather than attempts to communicate with the reader. However, there is something to be said for Friedrich Durrenmatt's use of chapters that consist of a single long sentence. It lends a cer
Jan 04, 2009 Michael rated it it was ok
I loved most of what Durrenmatt has written, but his last work fails for me on every level. While it's interesting to read a book written with just twenty four sentences (one sentence per chapter) this tale of observing mixed with some half baked thoughts on surveilance and the art of photography and documentary does nothing that make a pleasurable tale or even spark any deep thoughts about it's subject matter: surveilance, war, the arms trade, etc. that are more prevalent now in our secret gove ...more
Greg Brozeit
Dec 13, 2013 Greg Brozeit rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, dürrenmatt
A psychiatrist's wife is murdered at the foot of an Islamic temple in an African nation. He hires a filmmaker/journalist to find out the cause of her death. Thus begins a distinctively perverse and astonishingly unpredictable Dürrenmatt tale that ends nowhere near the destination one might anticipate at the beginning. A short book of 24 chapters, actually 24 comma-laden run on sentences that once again demonstrates how Dürrenmatt could anticipate aspects of the future long before anyone even con ...more
Ryan Chapman
May 17, 2012 Ryan Chapman rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
An excellent parable of conflict and paranoia in the vein of Waiting for the Barbarians, with a dash of Baudrillard for good measure. It's difficult to summarize this work, since on the one hand it's pure plot--advancing so quickly it almost trips over itself--and on the other it's a balanced experimental work of 24 chapters each consisting of just one sentence. So...something for everyone? I will say that the author's concerns over the mechanization of warfare (shades of Gravity's Rainbow) are ...more
Feb 19, 2009 Walter rated it really liked it
"A parable of hell for an age consumed by images."
Who could resist a blurb like that when you are looking for some good leisure reading?
I couldn’t.

This book was partially inspired by the first 24 movements of Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier. The book is 24 chapters; each one is only one sentence. This adds a pressure, and for that matter, an intensely beautiful rhythm to the prose, while at the same time, leading the reader to some of the darker caverns of humanity.
What is seen isn’t real, an
فردریش دورنمات سوئیسی، رمان ها و نمایش نامه های بسیاری نوشته که در ادبیات اروپای قرن بیستم در حد یک کاندیدای نوبل ادبیات، مطرح بوده اند. با این همه دورنمات آن گونه که شایسته بود، در جهان مورد توجه قرار نگرفت. او دشمن قدرت بود و بر این عقیده بود که قدرت و فساد، دوقلوهای وحشتناک جهان معاصر اند. این موضوعی ست که رگه ی اصلی تقریبن تمامی آثار اوست. او به این نحله ی فکری در اروپا تعلق دارد که چسبیدن به یک ایده ی مشخص، همیشه به افراط یا تفریط کشیده می شود و در هر حال باعث سرخوردگی می شود.
Jun 08, 2009 Tim rated it liked it
A fascinating if surreal adventure, a quick read in experimental fiction. Each of the 24 chapters is only a single sentence, albeit in some cases one that goes on for 10 pages.

Also, a classic case of read the "Foreword" after you've read the book. Annoying when the very interesting analysis of something you supposedly have not yet read (questionable in the first place) actually gives away plot details in the process. Just make it an Afterword already!
Chilly SavageMelon
Sort of like post-modern Kafka, more of an experiment really that a novel, exploring observation, paranoia, technology, reality and how the four relate to one another. The technique takes some getting used to, as each chapter is essentially only one long run on sentence, but the work is short enough, and the chapters, as well as the book itself, have flow.
Apr 19, 2009 David rated it it was amazing
Shelves: read-2009
A disturbing headlong rush of a book, 24 chapters, each chapter a single long sentence. But that doesn't mean this is just some formal experiment or just a philosophical rumination. Everything is connected, and everything means something, and Durrenmatt deftly conjures the various darknesses of the 20th century.

Highly recommended.
Mar 16, 2014 Mike rated it it was ok
I've read (partially) Thorpe's The Detective, terrible book because it is unreadable. At best, The Assignment is readable, reading quick much like Durrenmatt's other novellas. What I did like was that the book is comprised of 24 run-on sentences and about a gazillion commas. I appreciate the "no fux given" attitude towards writing - and that's all I liked about this book.
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Dürrenmatt was born in the Emmental (canton of Bern), the son of a Protestant pastor. His grandfather Ulrich Dürrenmatt was a conservative politician. The family moved to Bern in 1935. Dürrenmatt began to study philosophy and German language and literature at the University of Zurich in 1941, but moved to the University of Bern after one semester. In 1943 he decided to become an author and dramati ...more
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“...he had read von Lambert's book on terrorism, there were two pages devoted to the Arab resistance movement, von Lambert refused to call them terrorists, which didn't preclude, and he had emphasized this, that nonterrorists were also capable of atrocities, Auschwitz, for instance, was not the work of terrorists but of state employees...” 0 likes
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