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Gargoyles

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3.93  ·  Rating details ·  1,474 ratings  ·  142 reviews
The playwright and novelist Thomas Bernhard was one of the most widely translated and admired writers of his generation, winner of the three most coveted literary prizes in Germany. Gargoyles, one of his earliest novels, is a singular, surreal study of the nature of humanity.

One morning a doctor and his son set out on daily rounds through the grim mountainous Austrian
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Paperback, 208 pages
Published October 17th 2006 by Vintage International (first published 1967)
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Average rating 3.93  · 
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Glenn Russell


I recall a great line in a Tom Sharpe novel where the main character reflects "Schopenhauer hit a nadir of gloom that made King Lear sound like a hysterical optimist under the influence of laughing gas." After reading Gargoyles, let me modify this to: "Thomas Bernhard hit a nadir of gloom that made Schopenhauer sound like a hysterical optimist under the influence of laughing gas."

This is my first Thomas Bernhard. Since there are a number of excellent reviews of Gargoyles posted by seasoned
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William2
Dec 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
This reminds me a little of Giovanni Verga. Not in tone or style or diction, but in terms of content. Specifically, the way Bernhard reports the relentless violent assault on humanity taking place in the far flung Austrian region of Styria. Verga’s stories are teary-eyed tales about horrible suffering due to entrenched rural poverty in Sicily; Bernhard’s viewpoint is dry-eyed with almost revelatory insights into the violence of rural Austria. Yet there is a certain consonance between the two, a ...more
David
Dec 01, 2010 rated it it was ok
Shelves: thomas-bernhard
This was Thomas Bernhard before Thomas Bernhard was Thomas Bernhard. It's like he hadn't quite found the sweet spot yet. The first half is a very starchy, hopelessly Euro narrative about a doctor and his son visiting all the freaks and losers in the Austrian countryside. These two characters are so wooden and theoretical that I wanted them to get the hell out of the way so that I could enjoy the book because I definitely found the freaks and losers far more entertaining than their soporific ...more
Lee Klein
Now that I've read nearly all of Bernhard I agree with Stephen Dixon's impression that Bernhard improved with age: http://www.raintaxi.com/the-writer-re... -- this is early proto-Bernhard, with paragraph breaks, and so it seemed worth it to see glimmerings of the later refined style, the repetitive ranting, but nowhere near as intense, clear, and engaging as his later stuff. Every once in a while a character says something in that mature Bernhard style and you can almost feel the younger author ...more
Maru Kun
Nov 14, 2018 rated it really liked it
"The Smiths" are so depressing that whenever I finish listening to them my heart is filled with joy again. Thomas Bernhard is so nihilistic that whenever I finish reading him my life is filled with meaning again.
I suddenly felt the need to lie flat on the floor, stark naked. I undressed and lay down stark naked on the floor. At breakfast I told the others about it, but nobody laughed.

I can certainly believe that this book represents a transition to his later outstanding works and as such was
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Szplug
Mar 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
The original German title for Bernhard's third novel is Verstörung; this translates as Disturbance, as in something not quite right but not fully insane. This is an apt reflection of a novel that walks and teeters precariously around the bubbling edges of incapacitating madness; yet Gargoyles presents an image that also accurately describes the procession of twisted and grotesque beings that litter the frigid and menacing hinterlands of the Austrian province of Styria - a series of wracked ...more
Ben Winch
I notice some bad reviews for this one by folk who otherwise love Bernhard, and I have to say they puzzle me. In fact, the whole cult of Bernhard - which I've only really discovered since coming to Goodreads - puzzles me in some way, as does (I suppose) my own cultish behaviour towards him in the years when I read him often. Not that I ever really worshipped the guy, but I kept reading, partly just from a desire to find out why anyone would be driven to write as he did. Thus, after starting with ...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Half panorama of the freaks of one large stretch of Austria, half the study of one particular man's psychosis, this is a novel to be read with marked patience and attention. And it is a strange experience no matter how you go about it. At any given moment, I was either reading a passage so repetitious that it made me talk to myself, actually vocalizing "Grrrrr, come ON" *fist pound*, or perhaps the very next passage that was so lovely I read it over and over again and stuck a little scrap of ...more
Greg
May 28, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
A young man home from college joins his father as he makes his rounds visiting patients at their homes. They visit the dead wife of a barkeep, whom was bludgeoned to death by a drunken patron the night before. They visit a man who lives with his sister and who is a crazy musical genius. They visit the mill owner and his two sons who have killed off all these rare birds the night before, not that the big pile of dead birds has anything to do with the doctor and his son visiting; and then with a ...more
lisa_emily
Nov 14, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fictions
A warning, one must be in the correct mind-state to approach this novel. It is short, but it took me over a week to read, because I was not internalized enough to be still to read it the way it demands. Also I kept “hearing” Popol Vuh AKA Herzog film soundtracks, in my head while reading this. Why? Is it because the cover had an image reminiscent of Nosferatu –(actually that was the particular soundtrack that would play in my head while reading). Perhaps. Or maybe it was the mysterious Austrian ...more
Jimmy
Aug 06, 2013 rated it liked it
I'm entering into my second phase of Bernhard. In which I am no longer enamoured simply with Bernhard being Bernhard (though I enjoy it immensely). I know what he does, and I know he does it well, so what more can I say about a Bernhard book? There is no point focussing on the repetition, only that it's there. And no point focussing on the misanthropy or the humor or the very intentional style, only that it's there.

What interested me about this early Bernhard is that those things were not in
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Justin Evans
Aug 20, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
Not a Bernhard I can imagine going back to read in its entirety. This is most interesting in a literary history kind of way: it lets us watch Bernhard slowly become BERNHARD, as other reviewers have pointed out. The book falls in half, starting off as a Celinean medical picaresque, and closing with Bernhard rant delivered, oddly in hindsight, in the third person. The picaresque reminded me of the wonderful Joseph Winkler, only Winkler does it better. The rant reminds me of later Bernhard, which ...more
Saxon
Jul 28, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: fans of stories with dark, and subtle surreality.
If you have read an interview or read about Bernhard then it becomes immediately obvious that the man is a bit mad and a borderline nihilist. Nevertheless, I often find myself strangely fascinated with his outlook on the world and I even sometimes agree with him. At first, it seems that this man sees a very bleak and meaningless world; which is true. However, his total willingness to take this world in with all his horror, tragedy and confusion is nothing short of amazing.

Gargoyles is what one
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Adam
Jul 23, 2007 rated it it was amazing
A storm of madness, suicide, caged boys, disease, cruelty, and newspapers. The air is getting sucked out of our atmosphere and the prince won't stop talking...a modern inferno, a mixture of anger and beauty in the tradition of Beckett.
David
Apr 02, 2008 rated it really liked it
Though this isn't my favorite Bernhard novel, it's still pretty breathtaking. I think the first half of the novel works better than the second, which is strange since the first half is less "Bernhardesque" than the last half. But then, this was only his second novel, and he was still finding out how to fully effectively wield his monologue/rant style with which he closes this novel.

Still, there's much brilliance here, and a heaping dose of distrust, paranoia, fear, and a generally jaded view of
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J.M. Hushour
Apr 21, 2015 rated it liked it
A novel that turns the mind against itself by constantly questioning its own nature and what the fuck it means to be a novel? Plus, it drives the reader to ask inane questions of it. Sometimes it's hard to define what makes a novel really good...and what makes a novel really bad. Articulating like or dislike or trying to enumerate the problems of/laud a novel can be a tricky thing when you yourself find it nigh impossible to describe what the novel actually IS. And it isn't because it's ...more
Samuel Moss
Jun 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
The third Bernhard approached, and the style is just now starting to make sense, to click.

A fever dream always in the edge of catharsis, but never giving in. Having read Cioran recently the styles (in the Prince's soliloquy) match up in a startling way: aphoristic, on the edge of fiction, poetry and philosophy, dipping a foot in here and there but never conforming to any, really.
Anima
Feb 09, 2019 rated it liked it
‘The innkeeper, he declared, was a born criminal, born to violence. He remained a cattle dealer every moment and in all life situations. “Even though he’s crying now,” my father said, “it’s livestock he’s really crying over. For an innkeeper his wife is nothing but livestock. One day he claps a brutish hand on her and draws her out of the undifferentiated herd of unwed girls and breaks her to his use. An inn like that, like every butcher’s or cattle dealer’s or peasant’s house in this area, is a ...more
Simon Robs
Jul 15, 2017 rated it liked it
"His death was announced only after his funeral." Ha! This lil tidbit came as last line of "Life" category on Wiki-page Thomas Bernhard. How apropos I should think "he" would have thought - although I'm surprised there was even a funeral - who (?) would have attended but other morbidly sick individuals coursing for their own demise? But then, why am I (?), too, enthralled/mesmerized by this man's macabre look on life, his retching on the page book after book, mostly the same, suicide, sickly ...more
Brent Legault
Sep 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
A monologue, or series of monologues, related by madmen and suicides. Suicide is important to Bernhard. You might even call it his idee fixe. And there were times, I'll admit, while reading this novel, when I myself considered suicide. Somewhere deep within the haunted forest of the novel's second half, the prince's rambling narrative, I wondered what it would be like to shut my eyes, to never open them again. (My visions of suicide are always pain free.)

This novel is gloom-ridden and
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Andrew
About what you expect from a novel set in the Waldheim-voting incestuous backwoods of Middle Europe, especially if you've read Bernhard before. One decrepit prince in an equally decrepit castle, a lot of vile-seeming Catholics milling about. It's not the best Bernhard I've read, not by a wide margin, but if you like the derangement and bitterness that mark his other novels (or derangement and bitterness in general), you'll probably like Gargoyles.
Adam
May 21, 2017 rated it really liked it
Bernhard speaks to me, and clearly. It’s not a voice everyone can appreciate, but whose is? I’m not sure there is any better or worse place to begin engaging his work. A cast of unreliable narrators performs ambiguous hermeneutic charades across a stage at once deathly real, formally serious, and hopelessly meaningless. There you have Bernhard’s coordinates: body, text, and truth. Sickness, infinity, and vertiginous freedom. Physical, intellectual, and cultural decay. Yet it would be premature ...more
Eric Wojcik
May 12, 2014 rated it liked it
My second Bernhard, and I'd put the rating somewhere between 3 and 4. Where Concrete is lead by an alluring, mesmerizingly cantankerous voice of a procrastinating narrator, and is wrapped up with as quietly tangible (and nearly literal) a memento mori as ever kissed off the end of a book, Gargoyles doesn't quite come together. Still, any Bernhard is worth far more than most any book.

The German title is Verstörung, which I believe translates as Disturbance. I do not know whether in German the
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Amy
Oct 02, 2007 rated it it was amazing
My first introduction to Bernhard was actually an interview published in a recent Harper's. He comes across as a curmudgeon, and that's enough for me to be at least a little interested. I'm also in the process of reading Beckett's novels and Bernhard is often compared to Beckett...my experience so far is that Bernhard is much easier to follow...

I liked Gargoyles a lot. The first section deals with a rural a doctor and his college-aged son going on patient rounds. Every incident is fairly odd or
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Rebecca
Aug 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
This is a thoroughly strange book. I've been puzzling over its slim 200 pages for two months, and I'm still not done. The narrative is loose--a boy goes on the rounds with his father, a doctor. By page 80, they have arrived at the estate of a deranged prince, and the remaining 120 pages are devoted to the rantings of said prince.

There's almost no effort to help you, the reader, make sense of what is happening or why this is important. And yet it doesn't feel self-indulgent--there's a muscular
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Jim Elkins
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: german, austrian
My introduction to Benrhard. A real Victorian catalog of horrors as a boy follows his father, a country doctor, on a tour of blighted, stunted, and cursed communities. It is relentless to the point of idiocy (on the point of idiocy!) until suddenly, the son and father encounter the local Prince, who proceeds to tell them about problems he's been having hiring a groundskeeper... and he never stops, for the entire remainder of the novel. Stupendously, stupefyingly odd. Could not be stranger. ...more
Trixie B
May 22, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: existentialists
Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian writer and his work is basically understood to be almost entirely auto-biographical, housing his consideration of human existence beneath a thin fictional guise. His work includes almost no description of anything physical, instead creating a very detailed inner life for his characters. I just finished reading Camus' Exile and the Kingdom, and the two have similar styles. I'm really enjoying this book, which is narrated by the son of a country doctor, accompanying ...more
Aaron
May 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
One of the most exhausting reads of my entire life. Over 100 pages of straight monologue. Amazingly, the first hundred pages is quite compelling, but after the mental onslaught you'll endure from the monologue, your memory of the book's opening will likely be scoured to oblivion, washed away in a swirl of repetitious nonsense. There's really very little else like it, other than the rest of Bernhard's oeuvre.
Patty Cottrell
Nov 17, 2011 rated it it was amazing
this book is sort of unusual for bernhard, i would say. it's an early one and i think he was still refining his style. there's a tentative plot involving a young man and his father visiting sick people in the town and then THE PRINCE takes over.
Donato
Dec 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
How to describe this book? A journey through a land of sickness and death? A journey _into_ sickness and death? A journey into our innermost thoughts? A journey into solitude and insanity? A journey into every possibility? A relentless, dizzying, tormented soliloquy? Or all of the above, plus much more? [1]

The first clue is in the title, which tells us so much, or so little, as the case may be. The original German title is _Verstörung_, which seems to have several different translations into
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Thomas Bernhard was an Austrian author, 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 were oftenly working in a lifetime and never-ending major work while they deal with themes such as suicide, madness and obsession and, as
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“It would be wrong to refuse to face the fact that everything is fundamentally sick and sad.” 153 likes
“Everyone, he went on, speaks a language he does not understand, but which now and then is understood by others. That is enough to permit one to exist and at least to be misunderstood.” 66 likes
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