David's Reviews > Concrete

Concrete by Thomas Bernhard
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's review
Nov 09, 10

it was amazing
bookshelves: misery-loves-company, thomas-bernhard
Read in November, 2010

The World of Thomas Bernhard is one populated almost exclusively by obsessive losers. These are the kind of hair-pulling people who hunker down for years at a time in a single musty room in some rambling country manor bemoaning their fate or fretting about countless things, including but not limited to the stupidity or cruelty of others, the general horribleness of Austria, or accomplishing some esoteric goal. In other words, except for the anti-Austria sentiment, Bernhard was a man who spoke my language. His selective world is a nation of my strange countrymen. And mostly, this recognition of fellowship alarms more than comforts me.

A more neurotic person than I would see his novels as a prognosis. In fifteen -- or fewer -- years, perhaps my derangement will be within arm's length of Rudolph's, the narrator of Concrete. He spends much of his idle time (which is apparently all of his waking hours) cloistered from society and jotting down his condemnations of the world [his 'notes']. (I need to keep reminding myself, as does Rudolph, that the world really doesn't care how idiotic it is. It is a fat, dozing, complacent populace. It's eating something batter-fried and smiling into the abyss.) (Whoops. There I go again.)

Rudolph is attempting to write some sort of magnum opus on Felix Mendelssohn, but he has spent the last ten years agonizing over the first sentence. He is also 'ill' -- as he frequently reminds us -- but we are never quite sure about the validity of his claims, or which species of illness he means. He is quite certain he will be dead within a few years, and therefore he must hurry up and get this damn Mendelssohn thing finished! But he isn't sure of the optimal conditions for writing. In his home or in Mallorca? With his terrible sister visiting him or in Vienna? In the morning or in the evening? Those who are frustrated with wishy-washy, hand-wringing, neurotic types had better avoid this book -- and me, personally -- because we will both try your patience. Without apology.

Thomas Bernhard's writing -- which includes no paragraphs or chapter breaks and often embarks upon obsessive, repetitive run-on sentences -- can't help but remind me of Gertrude Stein's. This isn't to imply that Bernhard was inspired by her, or even read her work. But they both employ a maddened, rhythmic, obsessive narrative style -- a linguistic echolalia, maybe -- that I like to think of as the transliteration of consciousness into written form. In other words, I don't believe that the human mind always -- or even often -- 'thinks' in words, but Bernhard's and Stein's are the best examples of literature which allude effectively to the neurosis of human thought processes, unencumbered by the censure of propriety.
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Comments (showing 1-14 of 14) (14 new)

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RandomAnthony Goddammit. My library doesn't have this. I'm going to give them your phone number so they can call you for recommendations. Great review, sir.

David RA, it might be worth actually purchasing. Despite my general comparison to Stein, Bernhard is a very unique writer who delves into human derangement with a precision (and a very, very wry humor) that I haven't seen before.

Elizabeth, are you saying I am usually dumb, random, and dull?
; )

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I did notice the unusually sustained on-topicness of it all, too. Good writing is good writing, "on-topic" or not.

Greg David, good review but you gave this one too many stars. I'll overlook this deviancy for now. When I grow more misanthropic and bitter I may hold this against you.

David Are you doing a parody of me, Greggly?

message 6: by Greg (last edited Nov 09, 2010 03:51PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Greg I have spent much of my afternoon thinking (well really fretting and worrying) about this five star rating. I have decided it might be ok, but with the stipulation that there is at least one of his novels that is better than Concrete. I haven't read all of Thomas Bernhard's work, but out of the four I have read this is the order of their literary greatness. Obviously, the greater the literary quality of the book the greater the enjoyment one will experience.

1. Wittgenstein's Nephew
2. Concrete
3. Gargoyles
4. Histrionics: 3 Plays

message 7: by David (last edited Nov 09, 2010 03:25PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

David You say you've ranked them from greatest to least greatest (implying a spatial organization, either from top to bottom or left to right, as is normative in our culture), but then your list is numbered reversely; if one interprets the ordinals in the customary sense (i.e., smallest number signifying the greatest accomplishment), this seems to contradict, quite brazenly, the preamble which would seem to situate the greatest in the first spatial position ('this is the order of their greatness from greatest [first, sequentially] to least greatest [last].' [G.S., message 8]).

Greg You are correct. I hang my head in shame. I was interrupted in the middle of writing that message by a customer. I will correct the mistake.

message 9: by D. (new)

D. Pow Gawd this review bites donkey sausage.

message 10: by brian (new)

brian   what donald said.

David That's fine. As long as you vote.

message 12: by Jen (new)

Jen David wrote: "You say you've ranked them from greatest to least greatest (implying a spatial organization, either from top to bottom or left to right, as is normative in our culture), but then your list is numbe..."

Okay. I'm sure now I'm one of the frustrated that should avoid this book.

David See? They're not just reviews, Jen; they're public service announcements.

The Crimson Fucker I voted for this review cuz david asked me to vote for all of his reviews!

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