Jimmy's Reviews > Frost

Frost by Thomas Bernhard
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's review
Nov 07, 09

it was amazing
bookshelves: fiction
Read in October, 2008

It's possible that this has been said once before; is one of the most common reasons for postponing suicide, that of wanting to simply add a few more words before the fatal decision? Taking Bernhard's typical premise for any of his novels, it almost seems as though the reason that he wrote at all was in order to thoroughly explain his dissatisfaction with the world around him before he made that final decision. Of course, Bernhard died of natural causes, but it even seems possible that death caught him off guard. This is mostly based on conjecture, as Frost is not only Bernhard's first novel, not to mention, the first novel that I've read of his.

Another question; is the painter Strauch's rant merely an autobiographical extension of Bernhard's own crippling misery? It's possible, but I think that there is a bit more to this particular novel. Frost's premise is simple enough; a medical student travels to the Austrian countryside on assignment from one of the medical assistants who works for the institute at which he is studying, to observe the habits of the medical assistant Strauch's brother, the painter Strauch. Neither his school or name is given, in a fashion that is reminiscent of the sort of Kafkaesque, intentional vagueness that Bernhard seems to be praised for. The medical student (let's call him MS in the interest of clarity) takes his assignment with casual enthusiam. Thus begins his relationship with a misanthropic painter, whose mind is deteriorating at the same rate that his body is.

Weng is simple enough. The inn functions as a somewhat removed environment for MS to listen to a cycle of rants given by the painter Strauch, which he does at length. The nature of his rants entail a long list of complaints about the vulgarity of country life. Strauch paints a picture of grotesque sinners that exist in a vision of hell on earth that seems to rival Heironymus Bosch's rather graphic depictions of the same. The townsfolk are mutated drunkards; all very sick people, aggressively engaging in the act of living as if it were merely an excuse for futile, self-destruction.

A majority of the novel consists of Strauch ranting to the student. Also, this rant is contained within an environment that is as cold and narrow as the "protagonist's" point of view. It's this significant additional perspective that essentially justifies Bernhard's musings on the hopelesness of day to day human existence. Strauch is at the end of his life, a seemingly significant theme for a man who wants to include his "last word" in spite of his contempt for humanity. MS's perspective mirrors Strauch's own in a way that I found more emotionally poignant. It's the perspective of a man on the brink of just beginning to live, whose recent assignment has evoked the question of whether or not all of this living, or professionialism, is at all worthwhile. In the end I found MS's perspective unavoidably influenced by the painter's rather profound acceptance with his own impending death. Suicide and the inescapable cold prevail as themes here, and Bernhard ends up doing a nonetheless remarkable job of establishing himself in the canon of misanthropic modernism that wins its place in the heart of anyone who truly cares about abysmal self-analysis. What more can one say? Reading Frost is analogous to staring into the abyss, and Strauch himself would typically question just what the significance of said abyss is.

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10/21/2008 page 72
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Comments (showing 1-11 of 11) (11 new)

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message 1: by Jimmy (last edited Nov 07, 2009 09:33PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jimmy There is also a ridiculous amount of weighty language coming from Strauch that I didn't go over much. And Bernhard's style alone, which is such a profound treat to behold when reading him. Bernhard writes of a certain human despair that is drudgerous yet eerily worthwhile. I can't wait to read everything else, but I'm a hypochondriac, currently smoking, who endlessly frets about death. Sometimes Bernhard can be an existential heap of shit to digest, but he is definitely worth it.

Jimmy Also not mentioned; failure, a supposedly common theme for Bernhard. Or at least the artist's inability to create due to the distractions of day to day existence.

Jimmy I love this book, by the way. It's definitely one of my favorites.

message 4: by Kimley (last edited Nov 07, 2009 11:03PM) (new) - added it

Kimley Oh, I love Bernhard too! I haven't read this one yet and from what I hear from those who've read more of his work, it's not one of his best so I think you're in for a treat once you get to some of his other stuff.

The Loser is my favorite of the ones I've read so far. It's about a man who is the second best pianist in the world right after Glenn Gould! It's very Bernhardian - even at this level of success there is still failure, always failure. But there's always humanity there as well.

I've been told that The Lime Works is really good too but that's been out of print for a while. Though I'm happy to say that it looks like it's getting reissued soon.

message 5: by Buck (new)

Buck Nice review, Jimmy, but I wonder what made you think I might enjoy reading a novel written in lieu of a suicide note? Is it my misanthropy, my nihilism, or my Teutonically bleak outlook on life?

Actually, I've read a couple of Bernhard novels already, including The Lime Works, and I tend to think of them as the literary equivalent of goth rock: i.e. compelling but monotonous. Except that Bernhard makes me laugh sometimes, whereas Bauhaus mostly doesn't.

Maybe the problem is that I generally enjoy being alive. Naive of me, I know, and very uncool, but I can't help it. Hurray for everything.

Jimmy Buck wrote: "Nice review, Jimmy, but I wonder what made you think I might enjoy reading a novel written in lieu of a suicide note? Is it my misanthropy, my nihilism, or my Teutonically bleak outlook on life?

I suppose that, as a personal fallacy of taste and disposition, I tend to think that everyone enjoys bleak, European literature as much as I do. I guess that the synopsis may not make it sound terribly interesting, but the brutal honesty of the work is certainly something that I think you could get behind. Then again, what do I know? I hope you enjoy it if you ever do end up reading it. You like Beckett, right?

Jimmy Also, the style itself, despite its despairing content, is really wonderful. I guess that I love this novel for the same reasons that I enjoy Synecdoche, NY. Does that make any sense?

message 8: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney Pittman Jimmy, you say you hate poetry, yet Bernhard's writing is painfully poetic. Full of despair or not. And I kind of wondered the same thing Buck did. I enjoy and appreciate dismal, melancholy reading, but still. I feel like I'm left in a paradoxical state.

Jimmy Bernhard's writing is poetic. Are we really going to get into a semantical discussion of the difference between poetry and literature here? Maybe I just felt that, every now and then, people like Bela Tarr, Ingmar Bergman, Thomas Bernhard, etc, remind us of what it means to suffer, and how we cope with it as human beings. You guys don't want to read it? Your loss.

message 10: by Matt (new) - added it

Matt Margo Judging by your review, I would be more than willing to give it a chance once I sort out the 50 or so other novels which I still intend to read.

message 11: by Courtney (new) - added it

Courtney Pittman I wasn't criticizing you or the book. It was more a matter of discussion. And I wasn't talking about the semantics of writing, rather, the meaning and content. And I read and enjoyed Frost. I just thought it was interesting that your suggestion sparked the same thought in multiple people.

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