The Voice Imitator

Thomas Bernhard, Author, Kenneth J. Northcott, Translator, Jessica Helfand, Designed by
Thomas Bernhard, Author, Kenneth J. Northcott, Translator, Jessica Helfand, Designed by University of Chicago Press $20 (104p) ISBN 978-0-226-04401-9
Reviewed on: 12/01/1997
Release date: 12/01/1997
Paperback - 114 pages - 978-0-226-04402-6
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Less than half of the work of this remarkable Austrian novelist, playwright and critic (Wittgenstein's Nephew) has been translated into English, but these books have won him a loyal following here. Originally published in Austria in the 1970s, this collection of 104 parables (none longer than a page, some as brief as two sentences) will not disappoint his admirers. Supposedly drawn from newspaper accounts, hearsay and conversation, these mordant stories posit an ordinary world gone matter-of-factly bizarre. Like Kafka, another German-language master of the parable, Bernhard is interested in the intersection of the normal with the grotesque, the juxtaposition of the smoothly banal social surface with humankind's unrulier private impulses. ""To our horror, the very neighbor whom we had for decades thought of as the best-natured and hardest-working and, we always thought, the most contented of all our neighbors has turned out to be a murderer,"" begins one characteristic story. Others plumb the kind of obsessive, perversely romantic behavior that will be familiar to fans of Bernhard and his typical antiheroes. In ""Discovery,"" a Turin industrialist builds his son a magnificent hotel, only to abandon it when the young man is killed in an accident. In ""True Love,"" a wealthy Italian applies to the church for permission to marry the shop window mannequin that he adores. Whether skewering bureaucratic stupidity, exposing Eastern European political oppression or simply lambasting the indifference of the public to the work of his fellow artists, Bernhard--who died in 1989 at the age of 58--displays a delightfully light and sharp touch. (Dec.)
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