Handke's stringent style of postmodern storytelling remains uncompromisingly austere in his latest novel, in which an unnamed protagonist goes on a directionless odyssey. Alienated from his wife and children, a middle-aged pharmacist with a preternatural sense of smell lives quietly in the parochial, suburbanized Austrian village of Taxham. His life revolves around mushroom gathering until a mysterious blow to the head renders him mute and sends him out into a progressively surrealDand often perilousDworld. With his protagonist's muteness keeping psychology at a distance, Handke (My Year in the No-Man's Bay, etc.) slips in and out of naturalism, satire, fable and allegory, strewing the book with fragments of fine writing as he follows the pharmacist across a dislocated European landscape. To add an extra dimension of self-consciousness to the chronicle, the pharmacist is relating his story retrospectively to an off-page narrator in one of the book's many instances of obstructed communication and hesitant introspection. For a time the pharmacist (who becomes known only as ""the driver"") is accompanied by two characters who hover between satiric and symbolic roles: a poet who has stopped writing and a former Olympic athlete. They encounter a series of menacing strangersDincluding a widow prone to fits of violenceDas well as figures from their pasts, but the pharmacist must complete his journey alone on a metaphysically windy steppe somewhere (perhaps) in Spain, where rules of space and time do not seem to apply. While there is a resolution, or at least an ending to the protagonist's enigmatic journey, Handke once again writes for a select audience that values impression over objective reality. (Nov.)
Reviewed on: 10/30/2000 Release date: 11/01/2000 Genre: Fiction
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