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The Loser

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Thomas Bernhard was one of the most original writers of the twentieth century. His formal innovation ranks with Beckett and Kafka, his outrageously cantankerous voice recalls Dostoevsky, but his gift for lacerating, lyrical, provocative prose is incomparably his own.

One of Bernhard's most acclaimed novels, The Loser centers on a fictional relationship between piano virtuoso Glenn Gould and two of his fellow students who feel compelled to renounce their musical ambitions in the face of Gould's incomparable genius. One commits suicide, while the other—the obsessive, witty, and self-mocking narrator—has retreated into obscurity. Written as a monologue in one remarkable unbroken paragraph, The Loser is a brilliant meditation on success, failure, genius, and fame.

208 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1983

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About the author

Thomas Bernhard

270 books1,951 followers
Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian writer who ranks among the most distinguished German-speaking writers of the second half of the 20th century.

Although internationally he's most acclaimed because of his novels, he was also a prolific playwright. His characters are often at work on a lifetime and never-ending major project while they deal with themes such as suicide, madness and obsession, and, as Bernhard did, a love-hate relationship with Austria. His prose is tumultuous but sober at the same time, philosophic by turns, with a musical cadence and plenty of black humor.

He started publishing in the year 1963 with the novel Frost. His last published work, appearing in the year 1986, was Extinction. Some of his best-known works include The Loser (about a student's fictionalized relationship with the pianist Glenn Gould), Wittgenstein's Nephew, and Woodcutters.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 992 reviews
Profile Image for Vit Babenco.
1,465 reviews3,619 followers
August 28, 2022
Loser is an irrational tale told by an irrational man about his irrational friend – a triumph of paranoia… Music… Music of spheres… Music of madness…
The so-called intellectual consumes himself in what he considers pathbreaking work and in the end has only succeeded in making himself ridiculous, whether he’s called Schopenhauer or Nietzsche, it doesn’t matter, even if he was Kleist or Voltaire we still see a pitiful being who has misused his head and finally driven himself into nonsense. Who’s been rolled over and passed over by history. We’ve locked up the great thinkers in our bookcases, from which they keep staring at us, sentenced to eternal ridicule.

Is madness cacophony? Or is it harmony? Does music ruin musicians? It had already destroyed so many...
Profile Image for Bill Kerwin.
Author 1 book81.9k followers
November 20, 2019

In most of his fictions—including this novella—the Austrian Thomas Bernhard insults everything Austrian. In fact, Bernhard declared in his will that every one of his literary works in perpetuity must not be printed or presented within the state of Austria, or within the geographical boundaries of the present state of Austria, whatever that area may in the future be called. Yet he never made an attempt to emigrate; he lived in Austria all his life.

Bernhard was a man of contradictions, and his works--The Loser, for instance—are full of contradictions too. They are filled with solitary characters who spew forth spleen and invective, loathing the seediness of everyday life, and yet these solitaries are often bound together by some ideal which points beyond pettiness, some absolute which both inspires and degrades them. In Losers that ideal is music.

What plot there is, is simple. In 1953, the unnamed Narrator and the “loser” Wertheimer, both advanced students of piano, met at the Mozarteum in Salzburg, intending to study with Horowitz. There, one day, standing just outside a practice room, they heard Glenn Gould playing the Goldberg Variations. Although the three become friends, the narrator and Wertheimer both knew perfection when they heard it, and from that moment their ambition to play serious piano began to die. Before the monologue that is The Loser begins, the narrator has learned that Wertheimer has committed suicide, and he begins to examine—in obsessive detail—the friendship of these three men: how both he and Wertheimer were not like Gould, and how he himself is not like Wertheimer.

If you like the bleak humor of Beckett's novels or the rants of the later Ligotti (My Work is Not Yet Done comes to mind) you will probably like this novella. But Bernhard brings a wealth of ironies all his own.

I'll end with the novella's first anti-Austrian rant, this one specifically about Salzburg:

...Salzburg, which at bottom is the sworn enemy of all art and culture, a cretinous provincial dump with stupid people and cold walls where everything without exception is eventually made cretinous....The town of Salzburg, which today is freshly painted in even its darkest corners and is even more disgusting than it was twenty-eight years ago was and is antagonistic to everything of value in a human being, and in time destroys it....The people of Salzburg have always been dreadful, like their climate, and when I enter the town today not only is my judgment confirmed, everything is even more dreadful....Glenn was charmed by the magic of this town for three days, then he saw that its magic, as they like to call it, was rotten, that basically its beauty is disgusting and that the people living in this disgusting beauty are vulgar. The climate of the lower Alps makes for emotionally disturbed people who fall victim to cretinism at a very early age and who in time become malevolent, I said.
May 30, 2017
«Η από μακρού προσχεδιασμένη αυτοκτονία δεν είναι αυθόρμητη πράξη απόγνωσης».

Τόμας Μπέρνχαρντ, ο εμμονικός αναχωρητής. Ο κυνικός φυγάς προς την κάθοδο της αντίφασης και της αμφιβολίας.

Σημαία του η ματαιότητα. Σύντροφοι του,
η εκ πεποιθήσεως μοναχικότητα , ο θάνατος, η αυτοχειρία , η ακούσια εγκατάλειψη και η απογοήτευση.

Παρόλα αυτά,σε όλα του τα γραπτά νοήματα προεξάρχουσα θέση έχουν η αγάπη,η ανθρωπιά,η συμπόνοια και η φιλοσοφική καινοτομία που αρνείται να παραδεχτεί την αποτυχία.
Που κατακρίνει την υποκειμενικότητα ως καταπιεστική εξουσία σε όλες της κοινωνικές εκφάνσεις.

Που με ένταση και συνειδητή οργή αρνείται να εκφράσει ως αποτέλεσμα προσωπικής εξέλιξης:

Δυστυχώς κύριοι ΔΕΝ πετύχατε,ΔΕΝ καταφέρατε,
ΔΕΝ απελευθερωθήκατε,ΔΕ δημιουργήσατε,
ΔΕ ζήσατε...
«Λέμε μια λέξη και εκμηδενίζουμε έναν άνθρωπο»

Ο Μπέρνχαρντ ως αφηγητής και μοναδικός επιζών μιας παράξενης παρέας τριών ανδρών φανατικά αποτυχημένων.
Ακούμε τον εσωτερικό του εξομολογητικό παράλογο λόγο.

Τριών ανδρών ερωτευμένων με τη δυστυχία και την οδύνη.
Αιτία της επιτυχίας είναι το αδιέξοδο και η αυτολύπηση που οδηγούν με μαθηματική ακρίβεια στην αυτοκτονία, εκούσια ή ακούσια.

Παρόλα αυτά καταφέρνει με την εμμονή, την επανάληψη και την περιδίνηση ομοίων καταστάσεων και γεγονότων να συνδέει θετικά την αποτυχία ως προσωπική εξέλιξη:

Συγχαρητήρια κύριοι αποτύχατε,
αποποιηθήκατε τη ζωή,βουτηχτήκατε στην παράνοια και την μεμψιμοιρία,
σταματήσατε τον αγώνα σας απο εγωκεντρικά συγκριτικά,
λατρέψατε τη φυγή της αντιστροφής και καταστραφήκατε.

Με έναν αριστουργηματικό τρόπο καταφέρνει να πείθει με θετική παρόρμηση πως η δυστυχία της αποτυχίας είναι νόημα και βάση ζωής.

Δεν είναι σκληρός μηδενιστής,είναι ένας οπαδός της ανθρωπιάς και της πίστης.
Ένας αντιδραστικός πολέμιος που ακυρώνει με κάθε τρόπο την αρνητικότητα και προάγει μέσα απο άπειρες αντιθέσεις,παρακμή,περιφρόνηση και αντιστρόφως ανάλογη κοινωνική κριτική την αναρχία της σαρωτικής ψυχικής προπαγάνδας.

Ο αφηγητής της παρακμής ως ιδεολογία και στάση ζωής.

Η γραφή του συγκλονιστική,υποβλητική και πολέμια.

Πραγματεύεται τους εμμονικούς ψυχαναγκασμούς,την πληρότητα μέσα απο τη δυστυχία, την ευτυχία της αποτυχίας και την τραγικά επαναλαμβανόμενη σημασία που μας οδηγεί σε μια αναπόφευκτη επιρροή προς την ακύρωση,την κατάθλιψη και την υπονόμευση θεσμών,αξιών και προσδοκιών.

Ο αποτυχημένος..κρύβει τεράστιες δυνάμεις στο σκοτεινό σύμπαν του συγγραφέα.
Δυνάμεις αντίστασης,νοήματος,προσδοκιών,εμπειρίας,επιθυμίας και γελοίας ματαιότητας συγκριτικά με το θάνατο.

Η αποτυχία δεν είναι το αντίθετο της επιτυχίας, είναι να σταματάς την προσπάθεια...!

Καλή ανάγνωση!!
Πολλούς ασπασμούς!
Profile Image for William2.
758 reviews3,078 followers
October 25, 2017
Well, here we are again in the land of obsessive compulsive disorder, suicidal rage and death panic. It's like Bernhard has one channel and one channel only: sturm und drang, but without the post-Enlightenment restraint. How did Richard Hugo put it: "hatred of the various grays / the mountain sends...." Bernhard's satirical narrators are against everything: especially mountains, in this case the Alps, nature, people, society, art, any and all institutions, the church, the state, you name it. No culture, usually Austrian, can have a single redemptive aspect in its favor. One might think: 'Oh, the mountain air is great! I love to hike. Might take in a movie later.' For Bernhard's characters, there can be no such trivial daily existence. If we do hear about it, it's acidly deprecated. Death is inevitable; birth was never asked for. One is simply hurled into the "existence machine" by one's parents, probably drunk at the time. How dare they subject one to life and death! They should be put up against a wall and shot! If there's humor in Bernhard, it's of the gallows variety. Whistling in the graveyard. Bernhard's novels are voice novels, not surprising for a playwright, his other literary stronghold. They are almost entirely interior monologues with little or no description. Almost always one ranting narrator, pent up, unloads as if from a stage. This can be entertaining, but the cumulative effect is gloom. You can't get intimate with Bernhard as you would, say, with Styron. That's how consuming his negativity is. Like a horrific spectacle from which one cannot avert one's eyes. Bernhard may be a complete original, I'm not sure, but take heed. His art is dark, blackened by madness, numbing like opium.
Profile Image for Luís.
1,943 reviews609 followers
April 13, 2023
It is a question of a shipwreck in this fantastic novel by Thomas Bernhard, where a narrator monologues for nearly 200 pages. It is precisely the narrator, the only one still alive, in his fifties, of three men who met at the Salzburg Mozarteum to take piano lessons from a confident Horowitz (nothing less !). The narrator finds himself alone on the beach, abandoned by Wertheimer, suicidal, and Glenn Gould (nothing less!) dies suddenly of cerebral congestion. Their disappearance leads him to reflect on his destiny, past, music, and place in an uncomfortable and discouraging world. The author tells us that the castaway is Wertheimer, ironically called the sinking by Glenn Gould. But a shipwrecked man is, for me, a survivor. It is the one who has resisted (perhaps despite himself) the assaults of an implacable life. As Glenn Gould had sunk before him, Wertheimer fell, showing that genius does not protect from despair.
Profile Image for Steven  Godin.
2,489 reviews2,373 followers
May 3, 2022

Did Thomas Bernhard ever get to say a good word about anyone? He could have been pulled from a car wreck by a fellow Austrian, only to turn to the hero in question and with resentment become oppressive. Regardless, I just love reading him, the structure of his work is different to say the least, one long paragraph, repeated sentences, treating his characters as frivolous morans who do nothing but complain. I take my hat of to him, he makes me laugh and wince at the same time!. The more I read of him, the more I want to read of him. I would have gladly bought him a beer, but still would have felt a bit on edge in his company whilst at the table.

The Loser goes about in a humorous and absurd way of exploring the universal experience of encountering someone better than you in an activity that, prior to the encounter, you felt you were sitting at the head of the table as top dog. Some people walk away from such an experience somewhat chastened and then chalk it up as a normal part of life to simply brush under the carpet with the dust, dead spiders, and crumbs of food. In other words, they move on, forget it. Other people hang themselves from a tree outside their sister’s home. We have three aspiring concert pianists-Glenn Gould (drawn from real life), an Austrian pianist named Wertheimer (the notional protagonist) and the unnamed narrator-who become friends in 1953 in Salzburg while studying piano with the great Horowitz. Wertheimer and the narrator have dedicated their lives to becoming piano virtuosos, but one day they chance to overhear Gould playing Bach's Goldberg Variations and his genius destroys them. Gould gracelessly adds insult to injury by calling Wertheimer a loser, thus Wertheimer is the loser of the novel's title. It is this fact that these two cannot seem to reconcile,  one quits the piano altogether, and the other just can't be bothered with existing.

Bernhard doesn't treat his characters that would have us believe these men are artists with a higher meaning and sensibility than we mere mortals , he loves playing in anyway he sees fit to turn even the highbrows in bumbling fools. It's difficult to feel sympathetic with anyone, but that's the Bernhard way, you either love it, or you don't. With Bernhard there really isn't a middle ground to plonk your derrière down on. Above all he is ironic, and the reader can never be sure whether Bernhard means what he says or is larking around with us. His central characters generally contradict themselves, digress, fall into hyperbolic rants, obsess, trapped, as it were, in a logorrheic paralysis. For anyone looking for plot, forget it, in a ways nothing really happens for over a hundred pages, Bernhard emphasizes the narrator's act of thinking and not acting, it's all about the mind and not the physicalities.

It's important to recognize that Bernhard's texts are dense with a kind of rhetorical elaboration, that it is possible to analyze much of the text as a regurgitated string quartet playing away in such a way that a certain amount of material is made to vibrate and echo from sentence to sentence and page to page making one feel queasy. The novel is fueled by a peculiar intensity, and his unique prose style infused with a venomous extreme bitterness is something that simply seeps into one's consciousness with no intention of leaving any time soon. My second Bernhard in a couple of weeks. For me, this just wasn't quite as good as the other - Wittgenstein's Nephew.
But still, a solid 4/5.
Profile Image for Javier.
217 reviews152 followers
May 16, 2022
Hay libros que te hacen pasar un buen rato, textos entretenidos y amables para leer tranquilamente, en la playa, y al finalizar, cerrarlos con una sonrisa en los labios y permanecer un rato en silencio, con el libro aún en las manos, saboreando el recuerdo de las páginas leídas. Sin duda, éste no es uno de ellos.
Bernhard es un autor difícil, muy exigente con el lector; sus obras requieren una disposición de ánimo especial y una gran atención. También se suele decir que es un autor de culto, un escritor para escritores, aunque no tengo nada claro si eso significa algo. Es distinto, denso, adictivo, profundo, no hace concesiones ni se detiene en términos medios. Es, perdón por el tópico, literatura en estado puro.
Es probable que Bernhard fuese alérgico a lo superfluo. Su prosa está completamente desprovista de adornos; sólo lo esencial encuentra sitio en sus páginas. Eso no implica que su estilo sea sencillo. Apenas emplea puntos y aparte (de los cuatro párrafos que tiene el libro, los tres primeros están en la página inicial; el cuatro abarca el resto del texto). Sus frases interminables, laberínticas, llenas de oraciones subordinadas, machacan continuamente una misma idea; un paso hacia adelante, uno hacia atrás. Se repiten casi idénticas, cambiando tan sólo unas pocas palabras, una y otra vez. La reiteración de palabras y expresiones hasta la saturación pueden llegar a exasperar al lector, pero imprimen un ritmo hipnótico al texto, una densidad y un vigor difíciles de imaginar. La prosa de Bernhard es música; una música extraña, reiterativa, obsesiva, contagiosa, pero música, al fin y al cabo.
Pero la gente no comprendió lo que quería decir, lo mismo que siempre que digo algo no comprende, porque lo que digo no quiere decir que haya dicho lo que he dicho, decía, pensé. Digo una cosa, decía, pensé, y digo algo totalmente distinto, por eso he tenido que pasarme toda la vida con malentendidos, nada más que malentendidos, decía, pensé. Para decirlo más exactamente, nacemos sólo en medio de malentendidos y, mientras existimos, no salimos ya de esos malentendidos, ya podemos esforzarnos lo que queramos, no sirve de nada. Esta observación, sin embargo, la hace todo el mundo, decía, pensé, porque todo el mundo dice algo ininterrumpidamente y es malentendido, en ese único punto se entienden sin embargo todos, decía, pensé. Un malentendido nos pone en el mundo de los malentendidos, que debemos soportar como compuesto sólo de puros malentendidos y que volvemos a dejar con un solo y gran malentendido, porque la muerte es el mayor de los malentendidos, según él, pensé.

Donde no encontraremos complicación es en la trama, ya que en realidad no es más que una excusa para encajar una digresión tras otra. El narrador viaja a una aldea suiza para acudir al entierro de su amigo Wertheimer, que se ha suicidado. Ambos estudiaron piano en el Mozarteum, en Salzburgo, junto a Glen Gould (un Glen Gould de ficción, aunque muy parecido al real). Pese a ser pianistas notables ambos, la comparación con el genio de Gould arruina sus carreras: el día en que lo escuchan interpretar las Variaciones Goldberg mueren sus aspiraciones y, desde entonces, cada uno de una manera diferente, viven a la sombra del virtuosismo de Gould. ¿Qué sentido tiene continuar después de vislumbrar en qué consiste el auténtico genio?
¿Y Gould? El virtuoso, el intérprete que maravilla al mundo, no corre mejor suerte: obsesionado con la idea de ser un mero vehículo entre Bach y el piano, su don le tortura tanto como a sus dos compañeros de estudios.
Glenn, durante toda su vida, quiso ser el Steinway mismo, odiaba la idea de estar entre Bach y Steinway sólo como mediador musical, y de ser triturado un día entre Bach y Steinway, un día, según él, quedaré triturado entre Bach, por un lado, y Steinway, por otro, decía, pensé. Toda mi vida he tenido miedo de quedar triturado entre Bach y Steinway, y me cuesta el mayor esfuerzo sustraerme a ese temor, decía. Lo ideal sería que yo fuera el Steinway, que no necesitara a Glenn Gould, decía, que pudiera, al ser el Steinway, hacer a Glenn Gould totalmente superfluo. Pero todavía no ha conseguido ningún pianista hacerse a sí mismo superfluo, siendo Steinway, según Glenn. Despertar un día y ser Steinway y Glenn en uno, decía, pensé, Glenn Steinway, Steinway Glenn, sólo para Bach.

El texto es, en realidad, un prolongado monólogo jalonado de digresiones, una reflexión espontánea y desordenada acerca de la creación artística y su inutilidad, las limitaciones del ser humano, la frustración, el fracaso y, en última instancia, la locura y la muerte. Sin ninguna estructura que guíe al lector, continuamente se abren paso distintas voces (Wertheimer, Gould), que se superponen a la del narrador, intercalándose entre sus propias reflexiones. A pesar de todo ello, El malogrado es una de las obras más accesibles del autor, quizá por ser una de las últimas.
Aunque Bernhard utiliza la repetición de expresiones de un modo rítmico en todas sus obras, en El malogrado este recurso cobra una dimensión especial; en cierto sentido está haciendo con la escritura lo mismo que hizo Bach con la música en las Variaciones Goldberg: toma un tema sencillo y lo repite una y otra vez cambiando algo en cada ocasión.
Bernhard fue un crítico implacable de la sociedad en la que le tocó vivir. Vehemente en todas sus opiniones, no podía soportar la estupidez, la ignorancia, la maldad que percibía a su alrededor, en todas partes. Todo eso se filtra en sus libros, en sus personajes. No hay nada de admirable en ellos, y tampoco se puede decir que sean unos perdedores; sencillamente se trata de seres tan limitados por sus miedos y sus obsesiones que su única alternativa es el desastre.
Pero no nos llamemos a engaño, Bernhard no es un escritor deprimente. Por el contrario, tiene un gran sentido del humor que muchos, que se toman su obra con demasiada literalidad, no han sabido ver. En palabras de Javier Marías, “lo que hay en él sobre todo es la desolación de la farsa, o si se prefiere, la farsa de la desolación.”
No, desde luego no es un libro para pasar un rato distraído. Es para esos días en que nos apetece esforzarnos para obtener algo a cambio; para abrir puertas que solemos mantener cerradas. Es un libro que nos obligará a plantearnos muchas preguntas, cuestiones que quizá no podamos contestar, pero que es sano hacerse a uno mismo de vez en cuando. Como ya dije, es difícil transmitir lo que representa leer a Bernhard, y tengo la sensación de que estas líneas no animan a intentar descubrir a este autor. En todo caso, este es un buen libro para comenzar.
Profile Image for Guille.
784 reviews1,746 followers
November 4, 2018
“El segundo es el primero de los perdedores” (Ayrton Senna)
y aquel que puede llegar a vivir ese fracaso de la forma más cruel, añado yo. Este es el leitmotiv del libro, o uno de ellos, y recuerda mucho al conflicto Mozart-Salieri de la película Amadeus (aunque el libro es un año anterior a la película para mí es treinta años posterior).

Ello podía haberme influido negativamente: un tema que ya estaba bien tratado por la película, al que poco, pensaba, se podía añadir. Y si a eso le añadimos que es un drama en torno a un triángulo de personajes misántropos y elitistas, en el peor sentido de la palabra, y que nos llega por medio del discurso mental de un ser antipático que conforman una prosa incómoda, que por momentos me llegó a parecer torpe, la verdad, es que no parecía tener mucho futuro conmigo. Sin embargo he quedado fascinado y con ganas de más Bernhard, de mucho más.

El libro, junto a la película citada, me trajo a la mente otra novela que tenía olvidada -"La muerte del adversario", de Hans Keilson- que, de hecho, no me gustó demasiado, en buena parte porque me humilló en unas cuantas ocasiones en las que no entendí nada, pero que también reflexionaba en cierto modo acerca de esa felicidad que se extrae de la infelicidad y que es, en mi opinión, el tema fundamental de este libro. En su libro, Keilson intenta explicarnos el comportamiento, siempre muy chocante para mí, de los judíos ante la opresión nazi y venía a decir, o eso creo, algo así como que los seres humanos tenemos una necesidad perentoria de tener enemigos, bien para perseguirlos o bien para que nos persigan. Nuestro “malogrado” parecía necesitar a los dos.

En este sentido, contaba Keilson una leyenda que viene al pelo:
El Zar recibe como regalo una manada de alces. Estos son llevados a un paraje ideal, que, para su protección, es declarado parque natural. En un primer momento todo va bien, los alces se adaptan estupendamente a su nuevo hogar, pero pasado un tiempo los alces empiezan a morir uno a uno. Muchos expertos intentan explicar el enigma sin conseguirlo. Como último recurso llaman a un experto residente en el lugar del que proceden los alces. Tras meses de observación llega a una conclusión: los alces se mueren porque les faltan los lobos.
Profile Image for Michael.
Author 2 books1,356 followers
October 3, 2017
Bernhard is amazing, and this book perfectly captures his obsession with obsession. His narrator is a music student who realizes he's a failure when he, Glenn Gould, and another pianist study together, and nobody can hold a candle to Gould, the supreme genius. It's told in Bernhard's inimitable style, as one long rambling looping paragraph that takes ideas and beholds them from several angles, all the while maintaining a relentless energy that just takes my breath away.
Profile Image for Megha.
79 reviews1,093 followers
June 16, 2012

A single paragraph. One breathless monologue. Genius. Failure. Perfection. Obsession. Friendship. Death.

The Genius, the Philosopher, the Loser.

The musical genius of Glenn Gould, the pinnacle of art, is what serves as the reference defining all three of their lives. Werthemier - the titular Loser - finds himself woefully dwarfed by the perfection of Gould as a piano artist. The frustration of recognizing his worthlessness and knowing that he will never be able to reach the top leads him to give up his piano career. And this failure haunts him for the rest of his life. In his bitter obsession, he gradually advances on a path of self-destruction. The manner in which he commits suicide comes as a last-ditch effort to do something on his own terms, a desperate act of rebel against his life of failure.

The narrator - the philosopher - is similarly humiliated in his musical aspirations. Unlike Werthemier, he does manage to push the frustration to the back of his mind. But he never does come out of Gould's shadow. He never finds a new direction to his life and spends years writing an rewriting and essay on Gould.

Through this internal monologue, in a distraught and obsessive manner, the narrator attempts to come to terms with the deaths of both Gould and Werthemier. His whole life can only be defined in terms of the relationship of this trio and he realizes that their deaths automatically render his life void of any meaning. In the process, he also appears to decisively arrive at the conclusion that Werthemier's fate was sealed the moment Gould tagged him as the Loser. Clocks having been set in motion then, Werthemier's suicide was inevitable. And thus the narrator unburdens himself in knowing that there is nothing he could have done to avoid the suicide. We often find the narrator pointing out similar characteristics between himself and Gould (self-delusion?), which clearly set Werthemier apart from the two. While he admits to portraying Werthemier unfavorably, this portrayal also provides him with a way to assure himself that he was not headed down the same path as Werthemier. It really was Werthemier's own personality that he fell victim to.

The relationship that the three share begs the question - what if their paths hadn't crossed with Gould? Perhaps they would have still led a life of being nothing, Gould simply being the excuse they found. However, their lives are so heavily clouded by that of Gould, that it seems impossible to even begin to imagine Gould's absence. This relationship was rooted in their common idea and understanding of music, and it forged a lifelong bond between the three. The intellect of the two, the loser and the philosopher, was also responsible for their failure. Because it takes some acumen to even recognize a genius and be aware of one's own abilities and deficiencies. On the other hand, I cannot factor their wealth out of the equation either. These are two people who do not have to worry about earning a living and thus have the privilege to spend their lives fixated on just one idea. Had that not been the case, sooner or later, the basic necessities of life would have pulled their attention away and forced them to do something with their lives and perhaps lead a life of being good enough, but not the best.

The novel ends with an interesting afterword that throws some light on Bernhard's life and his writing. His later novels, including The Loser, contain characters which carry an image of the author in themselves. In the present case, Gould is meant to be doppelganger for Bernhard. Bernhard having studied music, his writing has been informed by music as well. The afterword compares his writing to Gould's music:
"Here it is Bach's Goldberg variations, played by Glenn Gould, that provides as it were the basso continuo for Bernhard's own deliberately droning repetitions and variations. With the monologistic, uninterrupted flow of its sentences, the novel conjures up the image of a singer fighting to sustain his breath to the end of an impossibly long, embellished aria."

Another well-known aspect of Bernhard's personality was his hatred for his country Austria. Not only did he face multiple controversies while alive, he delivered a parting blow in death as well:
"Whatever I have written, whether published by me during my lifetime or as part of my literary papers still existing after my death, shall not be performed, printed or even recited for the duration of legal copyright within the borders of Austria, however this state identifies itself." <...> This parting slap in the face of his native country thus came not only as a surprise; it came from the hand of a dead man, whose laughter rang out from the grave.

Profile Image for Lea.
119 reviews445 followers
November 14, 2017
“But of course the world consists only of absurd ideas.”

What a soul-piercing read... After I finished The Loser by Thomas Bernhard I thought: this is how you write a book! Or well, a long internal monologue that rambles on and on without any pauses. It’s simply amazing satire with a lot of absurdism, nihilism, and self-destructiveness narrated in one breath.

“All my tendencies are deadly ones, he once said to me, everything in me has a deadly tendency to it, it's in my genes, as Wertheimer said, I thought. He always read books that were obsessed with suicide, with disease and death, I thought while standing in the inn, books that described human misery, the hopeless, meaningless, senseless world in which everything is always devastating and deadly. That's why he especially loved Dostoevsky and all his disciples, Russian literature in general, because it actually is a deadly literature, but also the depressing French philosophers.”

But even that word view is mocked because it’s a sign of social and economic privilege.

“She herself had never had enough money and never enough time and hadn’t even been unhappy once, in contrast to those she called refined gentlemen, who always had enough money and enough time and constantly talked about their unhappiness. ”

It touches on topics that really occupied me throughout life- art, obsession, the meaning of success and failure, narrow-mindedness of all social classes. There is a great charm in how Bernhard deals with subjects of giving up, loss of ambition, hatred of virtuosity, jealousy and also the painful realization that you don’t want in life what you thought you wanted for a very long time.

“When we meet the very best, we have to give up.”
“He wanted to be an artist, an artist of life wasn't enough for him, although precisely this concept provides everything we need to be happy if we think about it.”

Three characters (one of them witty narrator of the story) were studying to be the piano virtuosos, but only one of them was really genius, so the other two gave up on their ambitions and dreams. I read somewhere that the three characters can be analyzed as an Ego (narrator), Id (Wertheimer) and Superego (Glenn), which is such an interesting approach, that I will have on mind when I come back to this novel and I would like to analyze them in detail, there is so much material to be contemplated upon in this 180 pages long novel and I might write a longer review in the future.

I haven’t liked somebody writing like this since Virginia Woolf and Dostoyevsky, truly superb. It is not even that I intellectually agree with everything Bernhard writes (nihilistic, pessimistic and fatalistic fellow readers definitely would enjoy his thinking on the highest level) but it somehow resonates with me and shakes my soul, like a true piece of art that challenges you to see the world differently and wake up from your usual delusions.

“In theory we understand people, but in practice, we can't put up with them, I thought, deal with them for the most part reluctantly and always treat them from our point of view. We should observe and treat people not from our point of view but from all angles, I thought, associate with them in such a way that we can say we associate with them so to speak in a completely unbiased way, which however isn't possible, since we actually are always biased against everybody.”

I definitely think I will read so much more of his work, I’m completely in awe. Highly recommend to everyone.
Profile Image for Garima.
113 reviews1,788 followers
November 20, 2012
"everything is ridiculous if one thinks of death."

This is what Bernhard said as a part of his acceptance speech for the Austrian State Prize for Literature. So, Yeah! That’s the kind of man he was.

Along with many other writers, I discovered Bernhard through Goodreads only. The next step is usually checking out the author’s profile, from where I found the following description:

Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian author, who ranges among the most distinguished German speaking writers of the second half of the 20th century.

It doesn’t convey much with its minimalistic approach but I got some idea. His influences were:

Samuel Beckett, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Franz Kafka

Those are some good influences, Right!

Next I went through the average ratings of his books, and to my pleasant surprise majority of them have more than 4 point rating but again, the no. of ratings are not that great, i.e. not many readers on Goodreads read him that much and The Loser seems to be the most popular among all his books.

What Else? Yes! I analysed his profile picture and went to Google images to see some more of his photos. Now I don’t know why, but I convinced myself that he had the perfect face to feature in a Gangster Hollywood Movie, you know, like Public Enemies, in a negative role or along the same lines, but anything but positive.

And at the end I read one of his quotes: “Instead of committing suicide, people go to work.”

I la—u—gghh- hahaha..like crazy.. *Voices in my head*: “Stop this nonsense and start the bloody Review.”

With this novel Thomas Bernhard appears hell bent to annoy his readers and therefore one needs to be an equally determined reader to get on with this book which, with a little effort can be easily achieved but cherish? I’m not sure about that. Whenever I pick up a book, I try not to have any pre-conceived notions about it and assume that I’ll have a good time reading it coz I won’t deliberately waste my time on some rubbish. So with The Loser also, I hardly had any idea what I’m getting myself into. I came across this description which I found baffling but couldn’t help agree with it more after finishing this book:

“Reading Bernhard feels like the children's superstition of holding one's breath in a car while passing a cemetery. He allows his reader no time to breathe, driving home the moments of intense disappointment and disgust. “

The loser is one long monologue without any paragraph breaks which seems to be a sadist move from Bernhard’s side because such breaks are a kind of breather a reader relish but you really don’t have a chance while reading this book so all one can do is to satisfy oneself with little time breaks. TRY NOT TO READ THIS BOOK IN ONE GO.

This book gave me maximum déjà-vu moments per page and for at least 1st ten pages I was like, wait! haven’t I read this before! but soon realised this is how the whole text going to be carried on, two steps forward, one step back and at times, several steps sideways also. So basically no adherence to the conventions of writing as such and well, that’s what Bernhard is known for.

The author won’t let you bother your senses too much on story front. It’s pretty simple and is stated in clear words at the starting only. You see that description given with the novel The Loser centers on a fictional relationship between piano virtuoso Glenn Gould and two of his fellow students who feel compelled to renounce their musical ambitions in the face of Gould's incomparable genius.….it actually sums it all up perfectly.

So, you really don’t need to be worried about What’s going on? But rather Why is it going on and why am I reading this and why oh why Bernhard wrote something of this sorts? I really don’t have an answer to any of those questions but all I know is somehow I enjoyed the discomfort this book caused. I came across a graffiti pic today that said ,"Art, should comfort the disturbed, and disturb the comfortable" and immediately my first thought was Bernhard.

One really takes pleasure in knowing the ascension of a Genius, but what about those Losers who were born as a result of the existence of such Genius. A painter painting somewhere thought about Picasso and quit his art, a writer writing his debut novel thought about Dostoevsky and quit his writing, (I, thinking right now of Ian Graye’s reviews and Naaah! I’m shameless, I won’t quit), and Wertheimer, on hearing Glenn Gould playing Goldberg Variations (which are pretty awesome, BTW) gave up his musical ambitions of becoming a Piano Virtuoso, despite of being really good, but not the best, Alas.

The Loser is one long, disoriented, languid musings by an unnamed narrator, who was a fellow student with Gould and Wertheimer at a class taught by Vladimir Horowitz. He recalls in a schizophrenic fashion (he used I Thought, I said I thought and I said to myself n no. of times so that’s schizophrenic for me) about the relationships of 3 of them and how the Genius of Gould affected both of them after they heard him playing Piano. If piano playing was a metaphorical place of Worship, then Gould became a kind of God for them from that day on and everything he did henceforth had catastrophic consequences especially for Wertheimer.

"My dear loser, Glenn greeted Wertheimer, with his Canadian-American cold-bloodedness he always called him the loser, he called me quite dryly the philosopher, which didn’t bother me..”

And Wertheimer became the ultimate loser, because Gould confirmed his fears about the same and couldn’t shun that image until his suicide, which became the only thing he did without any external influence, with a feeling that “at least I can decide how I’m gonna die.” Why Suicide? Because Glenn died a natural death and for once Wertheimer didn’t have to die in the same fashion. He became loser in front of Gould’s Genius and couldn’t do anything else because being a Piano Virtuoso is all he wanted, he was a failure at everything else, even at his relationship with his sister (which is one of the high points for me in this novel, it’s really disgusting) and on top of that he was filthy rich so he didn’t have to bother about economic aspect of life.

Our narrator was also a Loser, but of lesser degree, he was not suicidal and survived to ponder upon the deaths and lives of two of his friends. He was the Philosopher who philosophized everything Glenn and Wertheimer did to get over his loss:

I hated Glenn every moment, loved him at the same time with the utmost consistency. For there’s nothing more terrible than to see a person so magnificent that his magnificence destroys us and we must observe this process and put up with it and finally and ultimately also accept it, whereas we actually don’t believe such a process is happening, far from it, until it becomes an irrefutable fact, I thought, when it’s too late.

All three characters, according to the wonderful afterword by Mark M. Anderson, also the translator of this book under the pseudonym, Jack Dawson, are reflections of Thomas Bernhard himself. He took the idea of Gould of being a genius and a rebel, the unnamed character possibly reflected Bernhard’s own insecurities and failures. Wertheimer, however is possibly modeled after Ludwig Wittgenstein. And Boy! he really did hate his native country

"...hadn't been able to even imagine returning to Vienna in these three years and hadn't thought about it either, never again to Vienna, that profoundly despised city, to Austria, that profoundly despised country."

So Yes! It’s a pseudo auto-biographical account of Bernhard’s own life and general reflections of what it is to be A Genius, A Loser, A Philosopher, or a Human Being in the God forsaken circumstances. Read it at your own risk, I won’t really recommend it, especially during festive season but it seems a perfect candidate of being a 5 starrer or a one starrer. For me, it's a 3.5 star.

June 28, 2020
Αριστουργηματικά ισοπεδωτικό!
Δεν ξέρω τι να πρωτοθαυμασω, την ιστορία που με κράτησε μέχρι τέλους ή τον Τρόπο που γράφει που με περιελουσε σαν κρύο νερό μέσα στο χειμώνα;;; Ομολογώ όμως ότι είναι απαιτητικός όσον αφορά και το υπόβαθρο και την ανθρώπινη εμπειρία.

Η αυτοκτονία ενός ανθρώπου οδηγεί τον πρώην συμμαθητή του στην σχολή πιάνου σε σκέψεις όσον αφορά τον αυτόχειρα, τον ίδιο τον αφηγητή και τον έτερο συμμαθητή τους στην ανώτατη σχολή πιάνου στην Βιέννη· για τον ρόλο αυτό ο Μ επιλέγει τον διάσημο πιανίστα Γκλεν Γκουλντ, ένα φαινόμενο, μια ιδιοφυΐα που ξεπερνά τα ανθρώπινα όρια και στιγματίζει για πάντα τη ζωή των άλλων δύο!
Πάνω σε αυτή την διάσταση των τριών καλλιτεχνών του πιάνου και με αφορμή την σύγκριση των δύο ταλέντων με την ιδιοφυΐα του Γκλεν Γκουλντ ο Μ καταγραφεί σε έναν μοναδικό μονόλογο 215 σελίδων την εκμηδενιση και απονεκρωση τους ως ανθρώπων και ως καλλιτεχνών με την ιδιοφυΐα. Κυριολεκτικά καταβαραθρωνονται (πιο ταιριαστή λέξη για τον τίτλο) για όλη την υπόλοιπη ζωή τους...

Ο τρόπος όμως που επιλέγει να το διηγηθεί ο Μ είναι συγκλονιστικος, καθώς επι 160 σελίδες ο ήρωας περιμένοντας όρθιος στο φουαγιέ ενός ξενοδοχείου (!!!) αναμετράται με το παρελθόν και τις σκέψεις του (η φράση "...είπε, σκέφτηκα" συνδέει τις μνήμες με τις σκέψεις) για τον αυτόχειρα που δεν μπόρεσε ποτέ να αντιμετωπίσει την αποτυχία, που η σύγκριση με το φαινόμενο, του εκμηδενισε την ίδια τη ζωή. Ο αφηγητής οδηγείται σταδιακά σε μια αποκάλυψη του αυτόχειρα, Σκυλευοντας κυριολεκτικά πάνω του, πάνω στις λέξεις και στην μνήμη και μεταχειριζομενος αυτόν ως Αμβλύ αντίθετο στην Οξύνεια του Γκλεν Γκουλντ, καταλήγοντας ότι αυτή η χρόνια αποτυχία και καταβαραθρωση τον οδήγησε τελικά στην ψυχοπαθεία και εντέλει στην αυτοχειρία.

"Αν πεθάνει ο φίλος, τον καρφιτσωνουμε στερεά στις ρήσεις, στα λεγόμενα του, τον σκοτώνουμε με τα δικά του όπλα. Από τη μια μεριά ζει στα όσα είπε σε όλη του τη ζωή σε μας (και σε άλλους) από την άλλη μεριά τον σκοτώνουμε με αυτά. Είμαστε οι πιο αδυσώπητοι (εναντίον του!) όσον αφορά τα λεγόμενά του, τα σχέδια του, σκέφτηκα, αν δεν έχουμε γραπτά σχέδια, επειδή εκείνος, φρονίμως ποιών, τα εκμηδενισε, πηγαίνουμε στα λεγόμενα του για να τον εκμηδενισουμε, σκέφτηκα. Εκμεταλλευομαστε τα κατάλοιπα για να εκμηδενισουμε ακόμα περισσότερο εκείνον που μας τα κατελιπε, για να σκοτώσουμε ακόμα περισσότερο τον νεκρό και, αν δεν μας αφήσει τα εν λόγω εκμηδενιστικα κατάλοιπα, απλούστ��τα σοφιζομαστε· σοφιζομαστε λόγια του εναντίον του και λοιπά και λοιπά, σκέφτηκα. Οι κληρονόμοι είναι πολύ σκληροί, οι εναπομειναντες δεν γνωρίζουν τον παραμικρό οίκτο, σκέφτηκα. Αναζητούμε μαρτυρίες εναντίον αυτού και υπέρ ημών, σκέφτηκα. Λεηλατούμε όλα όσα μπορούν να στραφούν εναντίον του για να βελτιώσουμε τη θέση μας, σκέφτηκα, αυτή είναι η αλήθεια."
Profile Image for Seemita.
180 reviews1,614 followers
May 23, 2015
Grey – The color that most of the characters created during large part of twentieth century and whole of twenty-first century till date, are painted in. Cruelly banishing the evergreen Black and all-star White to secondary positions, Grey has risen in ranks to be the heroic hue of all ‘famous’ characters. The modern reader in me haughtily merges this contemporary thought into her conversations and discusses the ‘grey’ shades of the latest literary protagonist she has encountered. But the conventional reader in me? Oh, she curses! Throws slang, moans hoarse. To all those authors who wiped the clear, unambiguous White (read good) and Black (read bad) from her book world, she casts a teary eye and howls a simple question: Why?

The premise of The Loser is an intriguing one. Three youngsters join a renowned music academy to learn piano. Glenn, a born genius, simply uses the school to sharpen his existing incredible musical teeth. Wertheimer is a truck load of talent too, enough to prevail over most of the piano-playing community around him but nowhere near Glenn's magnificence. The third student, who is also our unnamed narrator, is in the same lustrous league as Wertheimer and at the same subjacent stand to Glenn. Fast forward twenty-eight years: Glenn and Wertheimer are dead and our unnamed narrator, having attended the latter’s funeral, is on his way to the latter’s last abode in search of some aphorism notes. And some base choreography of his only friends' life trances.

The story began well, concisely drawing an unshapely circle around its characters as if a hand was either shivering or consciously teasing during the entwining exercise. Then, a solid tangent was drawn from a vantage point in the book, where all the characters had rushed in to create the richest pool of their natural shades - a point where Glenn had donned the recluse's garb, Wertheimer had submerged in pools of pungent losses and our narrator had mastered the oscillations between insipid and not-so-insipid days. On this tangential thought, I rejoiced and braced myself for a ride of a lifetime.

Well, the ride controller had other plans.

The characters depicted the darker, gloomier sides of human mind with panache and incisive depth. Their dilemmas, their failures, their disdains, all found evocative voices of the finest baritone. But what about those occasional sunny streaks? Agreed, Bernhard felt they held no merit in his work but does not the sheer veracity of a diary, chronicling a lifetime of three men, demand few positive scribblings as footnotes? Fleeting thoughts that infused some fragrance into the ailing minds that managed to live beyond fifty years each? While I had empathy for all the three as they possessed no massive blemishes on their hearts, I could not warm upto them for they bordered on the sunshine but never bothered to usher it in, even through the doors of unhappiness and dry humor. They basked in unhappiness way too much and I felt rashes on my skin, unexpectedly.

The Loser is a tag Glenn gives Wertheimer on the first day of their meeting. But I could not help but wonder why Wertheimer was a loser in his suicide and Glenn was not, in his exile? Or for that matter, our narrator, in his directionless transit?

With The Loser, Bernhard presents his fellowship in Advanced Grey-mmar. The characters appeared all ‘grey’ to me, meaning I could sit in a theatre, watch them act, clap in applause and not leave before the final scene but also not reward them with a standing ovation and take them home after the act is over. It was like a fabulous soprano, which reached its crescendo during the first half and all I did afterwards, was search its mellifluous vibrations in the rest of the piece.
I have never admired anything but have marvelled at many things during my life and I, can say, have marvelled the most in my life.
I did marvel at Bernhard though. Written entirely in one single paragraph, unfolding mostly within the troubled walls of the narrator’s mind, the reading pattern alone was a striking experience. Repetitive yet fresh, discoloured yet brilliant, his style was the strong ribs of his unusual plot. As if a person was sitting across me and narrating his life’s mistakes and while I wanted to chide him for his stupidities, I ended up ordering a few more cups of coffees in the greed of pushing him to a point where he might mend, something.

Bernhard once said on his writing: “To shake people up, that’s my real pleasure.”

He succeeded.
Profile Image for Annetius.
321 reviews91 followers
February 12, 2021
Δεν ήμουν προετοιμασμένη να διαβάσω ένα βιβλίο μόλις 200 σελίδων τόσο κοπιωδώς, χωρίς εκτόνωση, χωρίς βαλβίδες εξαέρωσης, χωρίς σάλιο που λένε.

Παρθενική κρούση με Μπέρνχαρντ και ομολογώ πως με «τσάκωσε» με τον χειμαρρώδη, παραληρηματικό τρόπο αφήγησης, έναν συνειρμικό δαιδαλώδη λόγο όπου αναμνήσεις και εσωτερική ανασκόπηση και αποτίμηση ψυχικών καταστάσεων του παρελθόντος αναμιγνύονται για να φτιάξουν μια καλή υπαρξιακή ντόπα.

Άβυσσος η ψυχή του ανθρώπου. Και θα τολμήσω να πω ότι η ψυχή του τελειομανή καλλιτέχνη μάλλον είναι δις άβυσσος. Κάπου μέσα στο μυαλό του, οι συνάψεις είναι ηλεκτρισμένες και το ρεύμα τον κεραυνοβολεί, βραχυκυκλώνοντας ό,τι «υγιές και στρωτό» μπορεί να υπήρχε στις εργοστασιακές του ρυθμίσεις.

Η αντιδιαστολή οξύνοιας και αμβλύνοιας είναι έντονη: η ιδιοφυΐα Γκλεν Γκουλντ στέκεται σαν ακλόνητος ογκόλιθος μπροστά στη λειψή καλλιτεχνική ύπαρξη του απλού δεξιοτέχνη πιανίστα αφηγητή και του απλού δεξιοτέχνη πιανίστα φίλου του, Βέρτχαϊμερ. Στον τελευταίο, η ρετσινιά του "αποτυχημένου", που του αποδόθηκε –ορθά– από τον ιδιοφυή-πριν-ακόμα-γίνει-διάσημος-ιδιοφυής Γκλεν Γκουλντ, γίνεται ο σφιγκτήρας που θα λιγοστεύει ολοένα το οξυγόνο της ύπαρξής του, μέχρι αυτή να αφανιστεί.

Το βιβλίο "καταπίνεται" άριστα υπό τους πιανιστικούς ήχους των «Παραλλαγών Γκόλντμπεργκ», εκτελεσμένους από τον άριστο Γκλεν Γκουλντ. Αυτές οι άριστα παιγμένες Παραλλαγές μπορούν να συμβολίζουν το στοιχειό του κάθε "αποτυχημένου" αυτής της γης.

*Με μια έννοια, συνέδεσα τον Αποτυχημένο με άλλα έργα που αποδίδουν το καθένα με τον δικό του τρόπο την αναζήτηση της τελειότητας και την αδυναμία του οποιουδήποτε συμβιβασμού του καλλιτέχνη με οτιδήποτε λιγότερο από την τελειότητα. Αυτά τα έργα είναι "Το άγνωστο αριστούργημα" του Μπαλζάκ, "Η δεύτερη ευκαιρία" του Τζέιμς, και ίσως πιο έμμεσα η «Σύγχυση αισθημάτων» του Τσβάιχ.

«Τον συνάρπαζαν οι άνθρωποι στη δυστυχία τους, δεν τον έλκυαν οι ίδιοι οι άνθρωποι, αλλά η δυστυχία τους, και την έβρισκε παντού, όπου υπήρχαν άνθρωποι, ήταν ανθρωπομανής επειδή ήταν δυστυχιομανής. Ο άνθρωπος είναι η δυστυχία, έλεγε συνεχώς, σκέφτηκα, μόνο ο κουτός υποστηρίζει το αντίθετο. Η γέννηση είναι δυστυχία, έλεγε, και, όσο ζούμε, συνεχίζουμε αυτήν τη δυστυχία, μόνο ο θάνατος την καταργεί. Αυτό όμως δε σημαίνει πως είμαστε μόνο δυστυχισμένοι, η δυστυχία μας είναι η προϋπόθεση για να μπορούμε να είμαστε ευτυχισμένοι, μόνο από τον κυκλοτερή δρόμο της δυστυχίας μπορούμε να είμαστε ευτυχισμένοι, είπε, σκέφτηκα.»
Profile Image for Lee Klein .
812 reviews878 followers
October 6, 2011
Funnier and nastier and less full of shit than anything I've ever read. More laughs per ten pages than Sedaris etc, but with WAY MORE suicide! Awesome Austrian lit. Glenn Gould, the one true piano genius. One paragraph for 155 pages! Zero pretension. Few sentences extended over the course of the book in fugue state. Sort of like lame-ass literary fiction if you removed every standard literary convention (plot, dialogue, setting, scenes) and just freakin' mainlined the narrator's consciousness: I remember Marilynne Robinson (a Bach lover, same as Wertheimer, same as Glenn Gould) saying no writers really represent human (as opposed to alien? ant?) consciousness, and I was like what about Tommy B, and she was all like dunno, never read 'em, and I was like yo well pick up "The Loser"! Plus, again, you'll laugh out loud (LOL) like 12 times, which isn't a bad number for a book about encountering a true piano genius (Glenn Gould) and either quitting piano (the narrator) or killing yourself (Wertheimer). Highly recommended to all people who are looking for something a little bit different formally and maybe also totally awesome thematically. HEFT FACTOR: HIGH (BUT WITH LOTS O' LEVITY)
Profile Image for lorinbocol.
261 reviews321 followers
October 4, 2017
lo dico nel modo più rapido e indolore, e mi defilo prima che qualcuno abbia tempo di tagliarmi le gomme alla bici. per me sono tre stelle, e nemmeno un fotone di più.
perché va benissimo l’idea della stretta coerenza tra il racconto e la forma che prende: un romanzo in cui le variazioni goldberg hanno un ruolo da co-protagonista, scritto come una ossessiva variazione nei temi e nello stile. ma qui ci sono pagine e pagine con gli stessi concetti ripetuti allo sfinimento per due o tre proposizioni di fila, e se cambia giusto l’ordine di qualche termine è grasso che cola.
anche alle pippe mentali c’è un limite.

(chiederei per sfizio a qualche soccombente provvisto di versione ebook, di rivelarmi quante volte compare il famigerato passato remoto del narratore. tanti di quei «pensai» che nemmeno rodin).
Profile Image for Fuchsia  Groan.
162 reviews195 followers
June 1, 2019
El malogrado es un monólogo interior obsesivo, caótico y en ocasiones agotador. Al ser mi primer Bernhard me ha costado un poco entrar en la novela, pero pronto he quedado atrapada en ese discurso repetitivo y atormentado, que poco a poco te va envolviendo en los odios y obsesiones del narrador, que vuelve una y otra vez a las mismas ideas, incluso a las mismas frases y expresiones.

Este monólogo se desencadena al acudir el narrador al entierro de su amigo Wertheimer. Wertheimer y él conocieron a Glenn Gould cuando estudiaban piano. Gould era un genio, ellos solo tenían talento, y la comparación, la frustración que les supone aceptar que la maestría de Gould es inalcanzable termina con sus carreras.

Yo había llegado a tiempo al convencimiento de que yo mismo no tenía cualidades para hacer una carrera de virtuoso, le había dicho al maestro, y como siempre quería en todo sólo lo más alto, tenía que separarme de mi instrumento, porque con él no alcanzaría con toda seguridad, como de pronto había comprendido, lo más alto y así el narrador regala su Steinway y se marcha: Cuando encontramos al mejor, tenemos que renunciar, pensé.

A Wertheimer su fracaso, la etiqueta de “malogrado” que Gould le pone y que él mismo reconoce, lo aniquila, en todos los sentidos: Decimos a una persona una palabra mortal y, como es natural, no tenemos conciencia en ese momento de que, realmente, le hemos dicho una palabra mortal, pensé. Veintiocho años después de haberle dicho Glenn a Wertheimer en el Mozarteum que era un malogrado y doce años después de habérselo dicho en Norteamérica, Wertheimer se mató.

Pero diría que el tema último es esa contradicción que parece que me persigue últimamente, la vida como trampa mortal: El ser humano es la infelicidad, decía una y otra vez, pensé, sólo un imbécil pretende lo contrario. Nacer es una infelicidad, decía, y, mientras vivimos, prolongamos esa infelicidad, sólo la muerte la interrumpe. Eso no quiere decir, sin embargo que sólo seamos infelices, nuestra infelicidad es la condición para que podamos ser felices también, sólo dando el rodeo de la infelicidad podemos ser felices, decía, pensé.
Profile Image for Alan.
470 reviews212 followers
July 19, 2022
A surreal experience from beginning to end. It’s been a wonderful ride, learning about Bernhard, his relationship with Austria and its demographic classes, and his wit. The prose itself can be summed up with a GIF (I know, I know):


Mark M. Anderson, in his afterword, describes it as prose with a “monologistic tone”. It felt dizzying, disorienting, wild at times. I felt as though I was being dragged down to my knees against my will, forced to look at compassion and loss through the lens of suicide, obsession, and artistic compulsion. There isn’t much I can say that can “spoil” the book, per se. You know the whole of the plot on the first page or two, and it’s repeated, over and over, as it inches forward. Almost exactly like a dancing dervish inching forward. Not much ground is gained, but it’s beautiful for what it presents. Bernhard’s bitterness is evident. As Anderson puts it, he “operates according to a logic of inventive schizophrenia, splitting and doubling himself into a series of alter egos that are locked in a life-and-death struggle.” The characters in the book (the nameless narrator, Wertheimer, and Glenn Gould) are just different shades of the author himself, a fact that is evident straightaway.

What drew me to this book from the first few pages? For one thing, I can’t resist authors and narrators that have a bone to pick with the world. It’s really interesting to see them operate, watch them construct worlds. Bernhard never shied away from speaking his mind on hypocrisy and problems with the status quo. For instance, “his acceptance speech for the Austrian State Prize for Literature in 1967 proved so offensive that it drove the Minister of Culture and a good part of the audience from the room.” What fun. But the topics were undoubtedly interesting, things I think about constantly. Questions that come up, explored, but perhaps not answered, as they can never be answered and perhaps will never be answered. What is art? What is mastery in art? How much of it is pretension? What is genius? What do you do when faced with genius, how do you respond to it? What drives the artist to the abyss of suicide? When do you know that you have succeeded in your life’s marathon, especially concerning the creation of art?

A zesty chunk of this book led me to think about how we each take up the creation of art. The narrator approaches making art in a solitary fashion (how much I choose to believe him is a different matter) and isn’t bothered by the exploits of geniuses within his field – imagine if Jonathan Franzen gave up before writing anything because he read War and Peace when he was 20. The narrator’s close friend, Wertheimer, approaches art as an emulation, and is therefore disheartened when faced with geniuses that “do it better” – he is the prototypical football player that “wants to be” Messi or Ronaldo, or the screenplay writer who picks up a pen and says “How do I become Tarantino?” – this is dangerous, because the confidence of this type of artist needs to be unrealistically inflated, and it will burst. And what happens when it does?

Glenn Gould (a fictionalized version, of course) features, withdrawing into himself and somewhere far from society to work on his art – it was great to be prodded into learning about him, watching him perform, listening to his real rendition of Bach’s The Goldberg Variation. It was also surreal to find out more about this man, realizing that he lived near me, withdrew to a cottage not far from me, and died near me – hell, he is buried near me. We all see the world through our lenses, and when world literature collides with my geography, the story seems to be imbued with that much more significance, for no reason other than the fact that I can reach out and touch it.

I want to make sure to include a quote that was one of many that I highlighted – this one was beautiful:

For very often people who work with products of the intellect say they don’t hold something in high regard and on the contrary hold it in very high regard indeed, just won’t admit it because they’re ashamed of such inferior work, as they call it, bad-mouth their work so as not to have to be publicly ashamed of it at least.”
Profile Image for Matthew Ted.
765 reviews659 followers
April 27, 2023
58th book of 2023.

At my new job I've got a German colleague, T., and I asked her about the original German title of this novel: Der Untergeher because "loser" just felt wrong to me the whole time I was reading it. It felt out of place, unlike something Bernhard would use. She said that to her, the title is more like The Underdog. This changed the entire perspective of the novel for me. Loser is pathetic, shunned. Underdog is strong, to be rooted for. We vaguely wondered on the translator's decision, why "loser"? And then about translation in general, how the translation of the title, for me, changed the entire drive, even message, of the book. As for everything else: classic Bernhard: obsession, suicide, madness, art, hatred of people, of the countryside, lung problems, hatred of certain European countries. You know what you're getting with him, and he almost never misses. Interesting to have Glenn Gould as one of the characters in the book. I've always adored the fictionalisation of real people, not sure why.
Profile Image for David.
161 reviews1,493 followers
November 27, 2010
Recommended soundtrack for this review.

Of course Thomas Bernhard's The Loser covers some of the usual Bernhardian terrain -- misanthropy, madness, death, all the fun stuff really -- but failure is the real star of this show. The 'Loser' of the title, named Wertheimer, was unfortunate enough both to have been a gifted piano player and to have studied contemporaneously with piano legend Glenn Gould, whose life and genius -- albeit in a somewhat fictionalized form -- haunt Wertheimer until he is at long last able to 'assert himself' [as the narrator puts it] for the first time -- by committing suicide just outside his sister's Swiss home. It's this final act of defiance against a world he cannot master that is his one success. He accomplishes renunciation.

The unnamed narrator of the novel, another failure who has languished in Gould's long shadow, also turns his back on piano playing resolutely, and yet with some measure of (seeming) equanimity. Even though music is all he's really cut out to do, the piano has been irrevocably ruined for him by Gould's brilliance, his native ability, his setting of a standard neither to be met or outstripped. It was ruined the first time he heard Gould play The Goldberg Variations while still studying in Salzburg under Horowitz. Gould was still a student then, an apprentice -- but even his performance of Bach as a relative novice destroyed the promising careers of the narrator and Wertheimer. It was impossible to carry on after hearing Gould. Everything else was -- must be superfluous.

But while the narrator attempts to shut out the past, to avoid it altogether, drifting vaguely through life, Wertheimer becomes a willing, ecstatic victim of the past. He becomes the Loser, as Gould anoints him, not without blunt humor or insight. As Gould intuits, Wertheimer is doomed to perish, body and soul, in his adjacency to the genius and accomplishment of others. There is no contentment, no grace or dignity, for the also-ran, who acknowledges his insignificance, his insufficiency in the field of his 'calling' or his ordained vocation. When the foundation has been proven rotten, decayed, inadequate, the entire structure in its turn gives way. And so Wertheimer one day travels to his sister's house in Switzerland -- the sister he dominated until she escaped -- and kills himself. He even failed at dominating his weak sister, at terrorizing her into abjection, so he elects to fail comprehensively. To yield to failure, to succeed at failing.

The themes of The Loser will immediately be recognizable to anyone who has made any tentative venture into a field (particularly an artistic field) only to be stymied by the mastery of others. If Shakespeare and Dostoevsky have done their part, for instance, what can my writings add to the collective pool to make it worth the effort? In the shadow of the Canon, the ridiculous things I jot down, more like notes and scribbles than literature, can only be signposts of my vulgarity and inferiority rather than assertions of something original and meaningful. I can assert my failure, like Wertheimer, or I can flee from it as best as I can, like the narrator. Neither is an attractive option, of course, but the neurosis of the artist evokes this dilemma, even if logically he realizes that the question is entirely disingenuous.

Postscript: There is an interesting and informative afterword to the Vintage International edition of The Loser, written by Mark M. Anderson, which discusses how the events of the book relate to Bernhard's life and how Bernhard selectively altered the details of Glenn Gould's life to suit his narrative purposes. Also, the essay begins with an example of Bernhard's bitter humor with respect to his country of residence Austria, for which he harbored an intense ambivalence throughout his life:

During his lifetime Thomas Bernhard's texts provoked more than an ordinary share of scandals. But perhaps the most enduring scandal will turn out to be his very last text, his will: 'Whatever I have written, whether published by me during my lifetime or as part of my literary papers still existing after my death, shall not be performed, printed or even recited for the duration of legal copyright within the borders of Austria, however the state defines itself.' Bernhard had taken care not to reveal the contents of his will before he died; in fact, he even stipulated that news of his death not be announced until he was buried. This parting slap in the face of his native country thus came not only as a surprise; it came from the hand of a dead man, whose laughter rang out from the grave.

Profile Image for Mariel.
667 reviews1,070 followers
February 7, 2012
"Again and again we picture ourselves sitting together with the people we feel drawn to all our lives, precisely these so-called simple people, whom naturally we imagine much differently from the way they truly are, for if we actually sit down with them we see that they aren't the way we've pictured them and that we absolutely don't belong with them, as we've talked ourselves into believing, and we get rejected at their table and in their midst as we logically should get after sitting down at their table and believing we should get after sitting down at their table and believing we belonged with them or could sit with them for even the shortest time without being punished, which is the biggest mistake, I thought."

Loser, Philosophizer, Genius. The hopeless catch in the throat part of the heart that swallows down all when it's not easy. The have to be a Loser, Philosopher or Genius.

Those mistakes over and over again. The starry velvet mental goldmine has had some horrific accident and you should have known not to step there already. Expectations... My goodreads friends say that The Loser is laugh out loud funny. I shook my head in a recognition kind of way. It started to feel like reliving an embarrassing moment and pretending you can laugh about it now because you feel like you should be able to laugh about it by now. But not really. It's something. I don't know if it was quite humor to me. It's not sad and it's not funny because it's not making something more out of what already is, like art. It's more like if you could cut the hole out of the heart and compared it to the black hole they would fit together like left and right. I guess it's funny like how irony is funny because I never really know why I'm moved to some laughter-like impulse (I don't understand irony or anything else. Have I ever laughed like Glenn Gould? Not if anyone else was around, I know that). I wouldn't have waited for Glenn Gould to assign me The Loser. Do you sit down at the table and not expect to get punished? Or not sit at all. Maybe stand in the doorway of the inn, thinking?

I don't care about the what is the use when there's Glenn Gould (I can imagine being Glenn Gould and starting to wonder behind that barricade about not composing like Bach, if you stepped outside of the music when you really shouldn't do that). The other day I read Rainer Maria Rilke's Letters to a Young Poet (great) and he had some advice about how you shouldn't write if it wasn't something you would die over if you couldn't do it. I'm more walking the tight rope lines of David Foster Wallace's fiction is what it is to be a fucking human being (something like that. They both put it better than I could. I only live it now, as they did in theirs). I wouldn't want to do anything if I couldn't feel a story in everything. It's all the not expecting to get punished thing. The Loser isn't about not being the best in music or anything else. It's not ever being able to get over the feelings to avoid and you're always barricaded and always lost. What would they have done if they had never met Glenn Gould? My suspicion is that they would have been all for Genius if they had felt they belonged with it. (Does anyone?) It's a lonely feeling to not go that high. If you're one of those people who talk all of the time and never listen.

I know shit about philosophy. I wouldn't have known about allusions to Wittgenstein without other goodreads reviews (I have seen the movie with Tilda Swinton in it). I tend to feel hopeless when hearing/reading other people talk about philosophers and then I do something else like read novels. My version of their never-gonna-rock-me-Amadeus is feeling stupid in the face of what appears to me to be clear-eyed clarity compared to my cataract confusion. What I know is that I can relate way too much to feeling bad. My heart broke for our narrator that he could never get himself to tell that story about Gould or Wertheimer (it goes without saying that the only person I truly felt sorry for was Wertheimer's sister. Please, don't ever let me be a sister in a Thomas Bernhard novel). It's like being the piano and eliminating Gould to just play some Bach. He got in the way of telling/hearing a story. I know all about that. If you want to talk about genius in strumming those inner violin chords of self pity and acoustics of loneliness and that shit... It is what it is and how it can be that way and not what it could be, with a leap. (And the art is in the listening.)

I wonder what would have happened if they could keep it up every day, all of the time, of feeling good enough. Or seen somewhere they wanted to belong. The trio probably wouldn't have need fortresses...

I "discovered" this Austrian musician while in Germany last year. Um, no one ever, uh, played him any Glenn Gould recordings? Why wasn't he stopped? (No wonder Bernhard hates Austrians!)

And I want to read this Glenn Gould biography. Otto Friedrich can fricking tell a story. His City of Nets was pretty damned perfect. Talk about not being able to catch a break! Geniuses are everywhere.
Profile Image for A. Raca.
739 reviews152 followers
June 11, 2019
"Var olmak umutsuzluğa düşmekten başka bir şey değildir ki, dedi."

"İnsan mutsuzluktur, dedi hep, diye düşündüm, yalnızca budala olan bunun aksini savunur."

"Dostluklar, diye düşündüm, deneyimlerin gösterdiği üzere, eninde sonunda kişilerin ancak benzer çevrelerine kurulu olduğu zaman sürekli olabiliyor, diye düşündüm, bunun dışında her şey aldatmaca."
Profile Image for Sinem A..
450 reviews248 followers
May 21, 2021
Bernhard her okuduğumda kendine hayran bırakan bir yazar!
Belkide anlaşılması zor bir konuyu kendine has dili ile bir ağ gibi örerek hem bizi bu ağa çekiyor hem de bu ağ içinde karakterlerin nasıl kendi kendilerini hapsettiğine şahit oluyoruz. Üstelik tam da kitabın bir yerinde bahsettiği 0 yargı ve yargıçlar gibi!
Profile Image for MJ Nicholls.
2,049 reviews4,117 followers
August 26, 2014
We all know hasbeens who never were, so are really hasn’tbeens. My first wife, Mary Quattro, played the spoons in the Intergalactic Pipe Cleaners, a polka and celtic disco band who kept audiences enthralled with their wild interpretations of traditionals in the style of Ottawan and other disco groovers. She was forever in the shadow of Niles Vee, a percussionist of rare merit, who was at home on maracas and spoons. This outrageous two-instrument skill was impossible for poor Mary to beat, so she spent her life in a permanent rage against this otherwise harmless bearded man who liked smoothies and taking things at a sluggish pace. I had to divorce Mary when she brought her fiftieth Niles Vee voodoo mannequin into the flat. Sometimes there are limits to love. Have you ever sat in an airport and tried to match the face to the destination? This is a fun distraction. The trouble with these sorts of time-killing merriments is they usually end up reflecting one’s own prejudices. Who are we to assume plump red-faced men in suits are heading for Amsterdam, or that tanning-bed turkeys are destined for Ibiza? Mary was always chiding me for these attitudes, despite my guesses usually being right, and humans being as predictable as their behaviour repeatedly proves them to be.
Profile Image for Simona.
938 reviews210 followers
May 29, 2018
"Fuggiamo senza posa da una cosa all'altra, così lui, e ci distruggiamo da soli. Non facciamo altro che scappare, così lui, fino a quando cessiamo di vivere".

Non è facile, per quanto mi riguarda, descrivere le emozioni che questo romanzo breve, ma intenso, ha saputo donarmi. Con uno stile ripetitivo, a tratti prolisso, Bernhard trascina il lettore nel mondo della musica concertistica mostrando le difficoltà che si possono incontrare lungo il cammino. Un cammino impervio, soprattutto per i due protagonisti che si devono confrontare con il genio assoluto del piano, ovvero Glenn Gould. Di fronte alla bravura di un talento di questo calibro, si rischia di crollare, di soccombere e la tua vita si rivela un fallimento.
Il soccombente mette i protagonisti di fronte al fallimento, all'incapacità di essere trascinandoli in una vita arida e vuota in cui non vi è possibilità di riscatto e di redenzione, ma solo l'amara coscienza di ciò che eravamo potuti essere e non saremo mai.
Profile Image for Milena.
162 reviews59 followers
April 30, 2020
Jedno je sigurno - kod Bernharda uvek dobijete your money’s worth što se tiče količine mastila na papiru jer poglavlja, paragrafi NE POSTOJE, a ni tačke ne lupa ako baš ne mora. A ne kao ona pesnikinja (sad mi se čini da ih ima i više od jedne) koja udara enter posle svake reči / slova pa ih čitalac lovi po papiru.

“Gubitnik” je jedna divna - i to bez ikakve ironije - knjiga o samopreziru, samoobmani, umetnosti, nadmetanju, očaju i nesreći i kao takva je potpuni guilty pleasure za sve nas koji smo opsesivni, volimo dobru provokaciju (ali iz udobnosti sopstvene fotelje), koji smo izvukli najkraću šibicu kad se delila tolerancija i u iščekivanju smo dijagnoze iritabilnog kolona ili čira na želucu.
Profile Image for Bern.
73 reviews1 follower
March 29, 2016
If you are fond of classical music, you will probably like this novel. The world of musicians, their hopes and ambitions are skillfully depicted. I also liked the idea that the story is fictionalised about the great pianist Glen Gould's real story.
Profile Image for Teresa.
1,492 reviews
December 28, 2017
"O Glenn Gould, o nosso amigo e o mais importante virtuoso do piano do século, também só fez 51 anos, pensava eu ao entrar na estalagem.
Só que esse não se matou como o Werthermer mas morreu, como se costuma dizer, de morte natural."

Assim se inicia O Náufrago. E é tudo...

"Nós em teoria compreendemos as pessoas, mas na prática não as suportamos, pensei, na maior parte das vezes só a contragosto lidamos com elas, e tratamo-las sempre de acordo com o nosso próprio ponto de vista."

... "dizia ele, pensei eu...":
... como se explica o gosto de ler um livro que é apenas um monólogo repetitivo e deprimente?
... como se explica a beleza de uma flor?
... como se explica o mistério do sorriso de um bebé?
... como se explica a emoção de ouvir uma música, por exemplo, como esta: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=sN7mcfz... ?
... como se explica a magia que é a Vida? Feita de pouco mais que um contínuo repetir de dias, preenchidos de grandes e pequenos prazeres, de grandes e pequenas dores, de grandes e pequenas alegrias... de conquistas e derrotas... e no fim, o Fim.
Profile Image for Hugh.
1,272 reviews49 followers
May 23, 2020
This was my fifth Bernhard, and by now I have a pretty good idea what to expect. Once again this is a single paragraph monologue, circling around a limited set of themes and displaying characteristic contempt for most of humanity.

What makes this once rather different is the clear respect and even love that Bernhard shows for the genius that was Glenn Gould. The story concerns the narrator, once a talented pianist, and his friend Wertheimer, both of whose musical careers never recovered from being fellow students of the young Gould.
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